Welfare Reformed?

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After the suicide of her oldest son, Janet Pauldo was depressed. She decided to quit her manufacturing job and move south, to live closer to her family. Events changed her plans.

Pauldo: My youngest son got real ill. And the Cleveland Clinic is here and they are one of the best places for him to be. So that means I wound up here.
Pauldo wound up at the Angeline Christian Home, a crisis shelter on the west side. It's clean, provides meals, and tries to help women, some with children, to get on their feet.
Pauldo: At first I felt degraded and hurt because, like I said, I've never been in a situation like this before. I've always made my own money. The last job that I had I was making $11.40 an hour. So, to be reduced down to handouts--having really nothing and nowhere to go, I was feeling bad.
But Pauldo is taking advantage of Ohio's reformed welfare system. Instead of going on general assistance and receiving cash to help her through hard times, she is studying for a new career. She's training to be a nursing assistant, something she says she's always wanted to do.
Pauldo: Now, I'm going to school. I'm getting paid to go to school. And then, when I finish, I'll be state-certified. They'll hire me while I'll still be state-certified. So it's been a blessing to me.
Pauldo expects to move out of the shelter soon, into low income housing. Many of the women staying at Angeline's tonight are moving into the workforce without cash assistance. Monique Gunter had a baby at 16 and spent the next 16 years receiving monthly welfare checks. Her son's father was in prison, she was in an abusive relationship and she admits she has a drinking problem. Her son is now married with children of his own. A few years ago Gunter decided to straighten herself out.
Gunter: I knew nobody give me nothing. Wasn't nobody do nothing for me but myself. I had that already in my head. And the welfare--by the time they were giving out the GA [genteral assistance] checks--that wasn't enough. You couldn't pay rent. You can't pay rent with that. The food stamps might help some, but the money they had to offer you--it wasn't much.
Gunter now makes six dollars an hour doing factory work through a temporary agency.
Gunter: Well, the hours, they vary. Usually I work 8 hours. I get up at four in the morning and I have to be there at my job at six. But the job that I'm working at is temp-to-hire, so I got about 30 more days to go before I get hired.
Gunter's family is among the 175-thousand families that left welfare in the past decade. Ohio's cash assistance roles today are one-third of what they were at their peak in 1992. The numbers started to decline even before federal and state welfare reform laws were approved. Last October, Ohio started cutting off cash assistance to people who had been on the program for three years. By year's end, about 8,000 families, nearly 10% of the welfare population--had been cut-off. Shelter director Pat Hissim says as that number grows, so are the numbers of people coming to the Angeline Home for help.
Hissim: The results of that we are seeing now--especially in December to January. A lot of evictions now. The landlords are beginning to give out the red-tag evictions because the ones that were bumped off welfare in October have stayed where they are, but haven't paid their rent.
Hissim says government programs now concentrate more on helping people find jobs, education, and training. There's also more assistance with childcare, transportation, and health care. It's up to each woman to figure out what she needs to do. Some are angry about losing their monthly handout. But Hissim believes the welfare cutoffs are having a positive influence.
Hissim: I'm not against it. For many years, I saw many people that were just content to be on welfare. That they had been on welfare, and their mothers and grandmothers had been on welfare. It had become a way of life. Healthy individuals that could be out there working--I'm all for them coming off and getting training, and skills and getting into the workforce.
The new Ohio system has two parts. Ohio works first, which continues to provide cash assistance, but with a three year limit. And a second program aimed at preventing people from ever entering the welfare system by helping them keep their jobs, and by providing assistance in emergency situations. The state gives money to counties to pay for self-sufficiency counseling, job readiness programs, child care, transportation, and other costs. Cuyahoga county Adminstrator Betty Myer says the system has improved dramatically in recent years.
Myers: We now have contracts with over a hundred community agencies. Agencies, schools, churches, all kinds of organizations that work with families. This opens the door within a field of their choice. To help them and to provide them with support to make their moves.
At its peak in 1992, Ohio gave 80 million dollars a month in cash to families that weren't working. Today the state hands out 30 million a month for welfare checks but spends 40 million on programs that support work. Even at minimum wage, people make more money working than on welfare. Joel Potts of the Ohio Job and Family Services Department says the current programs make more sense than the old welfare system.
Potts: It's sad to say and this isn't just Ohio--this is public assistance for families and children. When an individual came to our office and said "I need help", our response was something to the effect of "you know what you need is really secondary. What we need you to do is to fill out a 30-page application. We are going to take this information and we'll put it into the computer system. A computer system will then tell us what you are eligible for and if you are eligible for what you need, great! Or if it doesn't, then go somewhere else that will take care of your needs." We were only about maintaining cash assistance program--we were not about addressing poverty. We were never really about getting people employed.
Politicians, bureaucrats and many activists are pleased with the progress in welfare reform. Ohio Senate President Richard Finan...
Finan: It's been a huge success. We lived up to what we said we were going to do. We had a cut-off date and we lived with it. And what it did is it forced people to go to work. And we have been hugely successful with that program.
But those successful programs aren't reaching everyone, and advocates for the poor say Ohio has plenty of money from federal government to make deeper improvements. We'll talk about that tomorrow. I'm Julie Grant, 89.7 WKSU.
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