What Works and What can Work Better
For the next few weeks my blog posts will focus on brand new federal regulations that will make it even harder for government to get out of the way of people working to gain economic security. The regulations are rigid and indicative of a system in need of correction.
We can start with the system's premises.
One of the premises we at Welfare Rights Initiative (WRI) believe underpins good social welfare policy is recognizing poor families' fundamental drive for a better life. Government needs to honor that drive by living up to its obligation to promote access to education for all that seek it. In the popular imagination many believe that all the poor need to gain economic well-being is to work hard. If hard work alone were the foundation of an American value system and all that people should aspire towards, slavery would still be lawful. But the reality is mindless drudgery alone won't get you far. Instead, getting an education is the kind of hard work families need to achieve a better economic future, improving the quality of life for the entire family.
WRI students' stories are models of families, mostly women with children, moving out of poverty through education. You may recall the example of WRI member and now proud college graduate Ana Lemus who I've blogged about here. Government regulations that stand in the way or affectively prevent Ana or any family like hers from getting education is misguided and not in step with the American design for a prosperous future for our children.
WRI will be offering an alternative to the TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families - the federal welfare program) regulations that promote full family sanctions in addition to scornful limits to education. WRI students will be offering new solutions to the problem of persistent poverty. And because we've watched and learned from the failings of Welfare Reform our guidelines will reflect what we know works and what can work better. After families are out of immediate danger, we know that education and training is what works to give the parents the skills they need to have good jobs.
Over the years, multitudes of women and children have moved from welfare to family sustaining jobs through learning the skills and earning the credentials our economy demands. The life draining regulations that came down from HHS (Department of Health and Human Services - federal welfare agency) last week do not reflect the power, determination and commitment of poor people to improve their own lives. I am hopeful that stakeholders across the country will come together to lead government to the systems level changes that are needed, so we can all get on with the business of making a better future from our daily pursuits.