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HOW WOULD WOMEN RUN WELFARE SYSTEM?

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"Landlords won't rent to me because I have four children - I have no place to live," a woman sobbed. "I'm tired of moving. I'm tired of listening to my kids cry because they don't have a stable environment. They don't have a home."

"I want to get off welfare and start my own business, but every time I work, they cut my benefits so much I can't make it," another woman said."If they go to the `two years and you're off' welfare system, it won't work," a woman said. "If they do that, you're going to have to take care of the women in a mental institution and the children in foster care."

Those voices and others were raised Saturday at a welfare-reform seminar designed to offer a platform for people who need reform the most - those on welfare.

Utah's state and congressional representatives heard these and other stories at the daylong event sponsored by JEDI Women, an activist group that helps low-income women. JEDI Women also released a survey of 202 female welfare recipients that showed many respondents see welfare as a way to get back on their feet but ends up trapping them in poverty.

The poll was admittedly not a scientific survey but was intended to find out what women would tell President Clinton about ways to overhaul assistance programs. "What we found gives us a glimpse of who women on welfare are and what they would do if they ran the welfare system," the report said.

What they would do first of all is create jobs that pay enough to support families. Respondents also said there is a need for more and better job training, affordable housing and child care and less government red tape.

The report highlighted ways the current welfare system discourages upward mobility among women on welfare. For example, a recipient is penalized for having a car worth more than $1,500, having a savings account or life insurance, according to the report.

The report and speakers at the seminar also underscored the fact that not all women on welfare are the same. They have different levels of education, backgrounds and abilities. Expecting a woman to get two years of training and then get off welfare immediately isn't realistic in many cases, speakers said. Some women are illiterate, some have been traumatized by divorce and abusive relationships, some have never worked outside the home at all.

Rep. Robert Killpack, R-Murray, suggested women use the state's applied technology centers as a resource to test their skills, interests and aptitude for particular fields of work.

Rep. J. Brent Haymond, R-Springville, recommended getting involved on the government level to get changes in housing for low-income families. "If you're going to wait for something to come out of Washington, the chances are slim to none," he said.

Also attending were state Sen. Robert Steiner, D-Salt Lake, and state Reps. Shirley Jensen, R-Sandy; Karen Smith, R-Centerville; Doyle Mortimer, R-Orem; Gene Davis, D-Salt Lake; and Frank Pignanelli, D-Salt Lake.

Also attending were Rep. Karen Shepherd, D-Utah, and Rep. Bill Orton, D-Utah, and U.S. Sen. Bob Bennett, R-Utah and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

Beth Kelly, speaking for JEDI Women, later said she was optimistic the report and seminar would have an impact. "We have recommendations and they're feasible. They make sense."