Quote: “We want our students to be able to use education as the pathway out of poverty.” – Mary Turner
In recent news, the Trump administration announced the new rules that will eliminate benefits for nearly 700,000 people. The new requirement states that “able-bodied” adults without dependents work at least 20 hours, attend school, or participate in the welfare-to-work program to keep their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits (formerly known as food stamps). As a SNAP benefit recipient, myself, I understand both sides of the debate. Yes, 6.2 billion meals won’t be available for these “able-bodied” adults “without” dependents, but this is an excellent opportunity to utilize the welfare-to-work program to receive training and skill or return to college for a college degree. Unfortunately, most participants provided the choice to decide if they would like to attend school is limited. Many people are not aware of the ability to further their education and are coerced to return to work immediately with the work first program. In 1996, Welfare Reform made most welfare agencies adapt the work first program as the numbers look better as well as reduce the workload. It doesn’t matter about the background of the individual, whether they were a single mother with young small children or single people with no children, even someone with a lack of a college-level degree, even those without a high school diploma and learning disability. Welfare pushes these types of programs because it helped reduce the workload by 50%, which made it look like a success when that was far from the truth. In 2002, Junes et al. studied in Cook County, Chicago, and it showed that 33 percent of TANF leavers returned to TANF within one year. The welfare-to-work program was the majority of people who had less education, work experience, more likely to be African American or Hispanic. When they have a massive number of participants obtain employment immediately, the adverse effects it has on children compared to children with parents who receive a college degree with increased behavioral issues at school as parents must work longer hours and remain in poverty that limits the child’s ability to participate in after school program or live in a poor neighborhood with less education available causing the never-ending cycle of poverty. Will this help people to reach a point in their lives where they will not need SNAP benefits AND never reapply? Why aren’t welfare agencies pushing for more recipients to go after more job training and college education?
Even though, welfare agencies had increasingly adopted the work-first approach over the past decade. One might expect the program that focuses on the work first approach would have more immediate effects, and then those that emphasize the human capital approach would have longer-lasting results. A study was done in 2004 by Greenberg, Ashworth, Cebulla, and Walker, which shows that 3.7 percent of those who take advantage of the work first approach may utilize the job search. However, many miss out on job training and don’t earn the maximum amount, which causes them to be back on welfare within a year. Studies show that it took nearly three years for people to reach their maximum earnings by taking advantage of the training that may be available such as customer service, typing, resume building, and interview skills? At first, glance, when they see the chart increase within the first eight months, you would assume that the work first approach is the best option for the welfare-to-work program. But since there are not many opportunities invested for job training or education within the welfare-to-work program since work first has been implemented throughout most Welfare agencies since 1996. You would be surprised that only about 5 percent of these programs across the country had any funding to improve the effect on participation in vocational training or college education.
Moreover, in most instances, participation in vocational training lasted on average, no longer than a month or two, when it did occur. Thus, a program emphasizing the educational development approach may not provide enough job training or any skills when funding is limited. Still, it puts less pressure on participants to take jobs where they might acquire some skills then focusing on the work first approach with the additional skill sets, they learned. Martinson and Strawn (2002) have found that programs that offer more hours of instruction to more individuals would make the program more successful as we would see fewer participants returning to welfare after they leave the program. Realistically, those who take advantage of the application make their way into employment, possibly assisted by the essential services that they allowed access to, which included job training or perhaps obtaining a college degree. To many taxpayers, this process takes a long time to play out, but the follow-up won’t be as extensive. Once participants find a career path earning them the maximum allowed. The funds used to follow-up with participants, mostly single mothers, decrease effectively. Investing the time to learn the skills and education about the specific employment, they wish to pursue to get off of welfare and stay off of welfare.
But what do this type of program look like to taxpayers? More states need to invest more into welfare participants, the opportunity to obtain an education, whether it’s a nursing program that provides them with a certificate or a full college degree that’s transferrable to a university to further their education. Colleges like Reading Area Community College offers a program called KEYS Program that provides not only the academic support for students but also every day-to-day struggle, especially single mother’s face. This program includes, but not limited to, child care, disabilities, transportation, mental health, drug recovery, housing, and medical needs. There are even non-profit organizations Center for Employment Training in some states like Kentucky that offer the same support, but it is not limited to welfare recipients. The services are available to the whole community, so people can advance their employment status and get the things they need. For example, a single woman with no kids may be responsible for an elder parent and can’t get nursing assistants to care for the parent so they can obtain employment for themselves. The program will provide the funding as well as help find an agency that will assist with care, whether in-home care or assisted the living. I interviewed Jonika Greene, the Innovative Learning Supervisor Center for Employment Training, located in Newport, Kentucky, whom I have met online through research. Mary Turner also gave me her expertise as being the KEYS Program Coordinator/Student Facilitator at Reading Area Community College in Reading, PA. Both women stated in separate interviews that they hear from students often that it’s not getting a job but retaining and advancing in the career that is the main struggle because they don’t have the necessary support within their home. They lack the skills and education to receive promotions and raises. Between sick kids or behavior issues with their kids at school, basic needs that don’t qualify under SNAP benefits, but also personal problems with homelessness, drug abuse, domestic abuse, and their mental illness causes issues with their ability to keep a job. Along with the lack of education and skills to make enough money to not just be above the poverty line, but also enough income to be able to receive still the help they need with child care, transportation, medical, and food.
“The difference I see when my students first walk in is a total of 360 when they leave after 34 weeks in the Medical Assistance Program as the Skill Instructor. They build more confidence in themselves and feel more prepared and ready to tackle the workforce. We provide the education to teach these young mothers to become successful in their career choice. Still, we provide hands-on experience along with more personal exercises to help them have the same understanding and compassion for not just their personal growth, but others whom they may come across in the field once they obtain employment.” Greene stated over the phone during our 2-hour long interview. Non-profit programs like this employment training center make sure to listen to their community about what they need by going out and surveying individuals. Not just on welfare, but also the many youths who also are caregivers or even older people that aren’t only 18 fresh out of high school. Reading Area Community College also does studies on their students and the community to see how they can better assist the students to feel more compelled to enroll in college. Mary Turner stated, “Most of our students in the program aren’t coming directly from high school, we have more students who are 25 years and over with more than two children. Our main focus is to help students understand how to navigate college and figure out a way to manage their time with their academics while raising a family and sometimes juggling a job to support their families. We try to educate our students who come into the program about financial aid and student loans as well as inform them of work-study opportunities, grants, and scholarships available to them that’s not just available through welfare, but also the school.” Turner encourages her students who can’t attend school full-time to do part-time if they are SNAP recipients. And if the student is a TANF recipient, in rare cases, they extend their cash benefits if the student needs more time to finish her degree, such as recipients who don’t have a GED and chooses to further their education beyond just the 2-year program available. Meaning, students at Reading Area Community Colleges who receive their associate degree can join the Dual Admissions program through many of the Universities within Pennsylvania to earn a Bachelor’s and even their Master’s Degree. “We want our students to be able to use education as the pathway out of poverty. We don’t want them to come here and do two years and think they have to continue with furthering their education. And if they do choose to keep going with their education, I don’t want them to think they won’t get the same support once they moved to a 4-year college. Our services go beyond just this building, we provide child care, clothing allowance for interviews or scrubs if they are in the nursing program, book allowances, and if we don’t have the resources, we will find someone who does. We also give them an incentive to progress in the program. We have a pantry filled with non-food items such as diapers, laundry detergent, baby clothes, and hygiene products for our SNAP recipients. Sadly, due to the new rules, they eliminated the opportunity for SNAP recipients to receive gift cards to Walmart or Target. However, they have the option to receive gas station gift cards to use on gas if they need it. Our TANF recipients can receive the same incentives, but they do have more advantage of getting gift cards to Walmart and Target, which allows them to save up for birthdays and Christmas since they are on a tight budget.” Speaking from experience, the incentives do help. For my family of 7 who received her first SNAP and TANF benefits, I only got $1100 in food stamps and $768 in cash benefits, which has continued to decrease as I earn income from varies of odd jobs as I attend college. Epi.org states, for just a two-parent, two-child family in Berks County, PA, you would need to make nearly $8,000 a month to live comfortably, which includes health care, child care, food, and taxes.
Along with this, nearly 27 percent of people who enrolled in a welfare program does not even have a high school diploma. While only 33 percent do have a high school diploma, they only qualify for low-waged jobs like the fast-food industry. We shouldn’t see a whopping 52% of people working fast food being dependent on at least 1 of the assistance programs. We often hear that people say welfare should be “as needed.” Still, yet there are more people with less education seeking assistance without the encouragement from welfare agencies to further their education. Many studies prove that the higher the education you receive, the more money you make. Forty-three percent of Americans who are on Welfare have been participating in the program for over three years. And we have over half of the Americans receiving housing assistance also been on the program for more than three years. And we can’t say people are intentionally scamming the system when it’s only 5% abusing the system, but that also includes overpayment errors which most never prosecuted on a federal level. These errors can come from numerous things, such as data entry and missing documents that sanction people off the program. Sometimes the requirements are too extensive with job search requirements with limited to no skills that hinder their ability to apply for jobs that pay higher than minimum wage. Even less than 3% who tested positive for drugs during the uproar over the assumption that people on welfare were abusing the benefits to get drugs. Which in turn, made Governor Rick Scott from Florida stop the drug testing program as it was an epic fail and proved the stereotype of people on welfare.
We are turning our backs to the real problem with the welfare system. Fewer people are receiving an education and being forced back into the workforce without the skills or knowledge they need to advance within the company. If we are going to cut benefits, we should take those funds and invest it into more programs like the KEYS program, including work first programs like the EARN Program. The work first program isn’t necessarily a horrible idea. We need more funding for the people who may not want to return to college but may be interested in a trade such as financial assistance for classes, equipment, and testing for their certifications. Even gaining more skills and also potentially earn non-credited certificates like the non-profit organization Center for Employment Training in Newport, Kentucky. They offer programs such as Business Computer Technology that takes 34 weeks to complete that potentially can earn them $7-$11 an hour more than the minimum wage that hasn’t increased since 2009. Where did the switch happen that education is less important, especially for people in poverty? Instead of focusing our attention on making people on welfare return to work, whether if they have children or not. The real power is knowledge, and everyone should have the opportunity to find something that they could be passionate about and also earn a manageable living wage.
In conclusion, the Welfare-to-work program once reformed in the late ’90s promoted to society as an ability to cut costs for the taxpayers only caused for people on welfare to remain on the program longer even with employment or return to the program within a year. However, studies show that the work first program, which is also known as the EARN Program in Reading, PA, doesn’t provide the long-lasting effects to help people to remain off of welfare. With the current skills and education, especially for someone without a high school diploma, people aren’t able to receive the maximum earnings for them to sustain themselves long-term. With personal issues that bluntly affect their ability to retain a job, people aren’t able to increase their income and advance in the workplace. Whereas, the investment in education and personal development allows people the ability to grow not only their knowledge and skills to earn more wages. But it also helps students feel like they have the support system from instructors, professors, and other staff to guide them during the journey of personal development. It’s time to evolve past the poverty mindset of just getting a job and any job based on our current education and skillsets. The government needs to focus more on getting people adequately trained. Whether if it’s with hands-on skills offering accredited certifications like CNA certificates, non-college credited such as a CDL, Medical Coding, Electricity, and Welding that allows for people to gain the jobs that pay extremely all the way up to a Master’s Degree or even a Doctorate Degree.
struggles such as teens becoming caregivers for disabled parents, or teen moms
who were forced out of their home and had no choice but to drop out to provide
for their kids, and even for the almost forty-year-old parent who seemed to did
all the right things and have a college degree, but had life mishap that forced
them to enroll into the welfare for temporary help and could use the program to
brush up her skills that are outdated could give her the better advantage to
not return to the program after obtaining employment. Instead of forcing
Americans to accept poverty and their current circumstances by placing a
band-aid with mediocre retail and fast food jobs initially intended for high
school students. We have better chances of showing people a better way to
become a productive member of society by giving them the tools they need to
enhance and advance themselves in a fast-growing technology society.
Montoay-Rael, Lillian, Policy Insights https://www.wiche.edu/Policy/PolicyInsights/WelfareReform/background.htm
Greenberg, D., Ashworth, K., Cebulla, A., & Walker, R. (2004). Do welfare-to-work programmes work for long? Fiscal Studies, 25(1), 27-53. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1475-5890.2004.tb00095.x
Kim, J. (2012). The effects of welfare-to-work programs on welfare recipients’ employment outcomes. Journal of Family and Economic Issues, 33(1), 130-142. doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10834-011-9272-1
Lexington Law, (2018). 45 Important Welfare Statistics for 2019. https://www.lexingtonlaw.com/blog/finance/welfare-statistics.html