DMI Blog

Maureen Lane

What is Core?

As I noted in my last blog Welfare Rights Initiative students, staff and alums will be putting forth our proactive welfare regulation outlines based what we know works when it comes to moving families out of poverty and into family sustaining jobs. On the DMIblog I will share our plan for achieving policy that supports family self-determination.

As our students know, when we talk welfare policy, so often we are talking about insidious prejudice couched in smooth tones. What we, human beings, see depends both on what we are looking at and what we have been taught to see. The policy makers who fashioned these new regulations are constrained by their received beliefs about families receiving public assistance.

The language of the regs sound eerily measured, almost helpful. For example, let's look at this paragraph taken from section 261.31of the regs, "We would like to emphasize that under these rules States retain the flexibility to assign an individual to a combination of activities, for example blending school and work or training and work or job search and community service, to reach the hours needed to count a family in the rate. We encourage States to use this approach where it best serves the needs of their clients."

This paragraph belies the wrongheaded narrowing of the list and definition of core activities that bureaucratically count in order for States to draw down the federal dollars they need to fund the benefits for families. If people are not engaged in this narrow list of activities, States don't get the funding and families don't get crucial assistance. For example, many States have counted English as a Second Language (ESL) as a core activity, which prepares individuals who need to speak English in order to obtain a family sustaining job. Very few States wouldn't find that ESL prepares people for jobs. Yet, the writers of these regulations say that ESL is not a core activity and to ''emphasize...States...flexibility" is to mislead the reader into thinking States can easily accomplish connecting people who need it to education.

Much of the policy-disconnect is Health and Human Services's vain error of assumptions. We who have received welfare or come from families that received it know the stereotypes and myths that are present in people's minds. The sexist and racist images that come when we hear "welfare queens." I believe the students I work with are heroic to declare at policy and advocacy meetings that they have firsthand experience of welfare. I am still fearful occasionally when I acknowledge my own time receiving public assistance. But I do it, we do it, because standing up and saying the truth changes perceptions and undermines prejudice in a way that can allow us to make better policy. HHS made an error, that can be corrected by the way, the regs didn't need to get stricter just smarter.

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Posted at 10:40 AM, Jul 20, 2006 in Economic Opportunity | Education | Welfare
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