DMI Blog

Maureen Lane

An Early Spring: New Welfare Regulations

Astoundingly, new federal welfare regulations came out yesterday like a breath of spring. The new regulations count college and other education and training programs as activities that will lead people to employment and out of welfare, whereas for the last 12 years they have not.

The regulations represent a major shift in policy thinking. The new rules are not everything people need to access education but they are a big step forward.

Over the last few years the federal government has been hearing from various states, advocates and people receiving welfare that access to education needs to be a prominent option for families receiving assistance.

In 1996, federal welfare law virtually eliminated access to education for people receiving welfare except in a few narrowly defined and short-term programs. The organization I work with , the Welfare Rights Initiative (WRI) was founded in 1995 in response to the fact that 90% of the people receiving benefits who were able to graduate from college moved permanently out of poverty and no longer needed welfare. The 1996 law was devastating for college students and the City University of New York alone has lost over 20,000 students receiving welfare.

Today’s new regulations count higher education and vocational education and types of education that lead to employment. This is exactly the right thing to do and startling coming from a Bush administration that seemed hell bent on limiting access to education and training for people receiving welfare even more than the Clinton administration.

Here at WRI, the past dozen years have been filled with heart-wrenching stories of students bewildered by policies and regulations that do not recognize their efforts in stabilizing their families and working to provide a better future.

WRI students and women just like them throughout the country have met the challenges of child-rearing in extreme poverty and are taking full-time college class loads to get post-secondary degrees. A current student starts her days at 5:30 am taking care of ailing family members and works long into the night juggling classes, child care, studying and welfare appointments.

She’s one of the lucky ones. She is still in school.

Thousands more have had their dreams deferred and were forced out of school by regulation demands for 35 hours a week of welfare work activity that did not include education.

WRI students are ready to move on from the pain of the last 12 years and work with Governor Spitzer and Mayor Bloomberg in New York to finally make good policy out of all the political rhetoric about education as a route out of poverty.

Right now, both the mayor and the governor are to the right of the Bush administration on education and welfare rules. Imagine!

Welfare policy can be the foundation upon which we build our country as a team and reduce economic and political inequality. Policy can be shaped that promotes the general welfare by supporting individuals and families on the down side of our economy to get degrees, training and skills. The federal government has made a firm step in the direction of good policy, but for the regulations to be implemented on the state level, state laws must change. We need to see that the states carry through. New York State would do well to take a giant step forward before spring so that the new federal regulations could have an impact on families lives throughout every city in the state of New York.

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Posted at 7:24 AM, Feb 06, 2008 in Education | Welfare
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