Forum Measures Impact of Welfare Reform

by Alex Grabtree

            A good friend of the Homeless Grapevine, Jim Patton, said recently that the ultimate symbolism of problems faced by low-income mothers in this community is that the headquarters for receiving help is located on Payne (Pain) Ave. (The welfare Department of Human Services is located at 1641 Payne Ave.) A group of brave women took over the microphone at Cleveland State University to tell the community of the problems that they have faced with the changes in the welfare laws over the last six years.

            There were statistical experts and community activists who could show the results of the changes in the welfare system with raw numbers and trends in the community. The real experts who had direct experience with the welfare system were the heart of the forum. They put a human face on the decline in jobs, and the huge rise in children in the custody of the County. They told those gathered sometimes in tears about the difficulty in finding help anymore in our community. They made the event real, and all gathered were disappointed that most major media, and all but Congressman Dennis Kucinich’s staff were present to hear the testimony about welfare reform.

            The Community Forum was held on Saturday November 15 at Cleveland State University with the support of Stop Targeting Ohio’s Poor, May Dugan Center, The Empowerment Center of Greater Cleveland, Merrick House, Father’s House Ministry, Women for Racial and Economic Equality, Women Speak Out for Peace and Justice and L.E. Brun House. They came together to discuss the impact of welfare reform on the lives of Clevelanders in order to deliver the message that the changes had caused great harm in the community.

            One participant said, “It is criminal of the media not to have covered the speak out. Aren’t the hardships of the poor newsworthy?” All of the agencies that organized the event agreed to write to Representative Stephanie Tubbs Jones’s office to ask why she did not send staff to this important event.

            Mother Sabrina Otis talked about her problems with the childcare system, which makes it impossible for low-income mothers to find jobs. Mothers Christian Turner and Ikel Maxwell both talked about having their children taken inappropriately by the county for poverty reasons. Veronica Sims had a powerful message about her inability to be able to find a job. Ms. Sims said that her little 5 year old was her rock and would tell her every morning that Sims would find a job that day. After 8 hours of no luck, she returned to pick up the youngster who would say, “Don’t worry Mom, we will make it.”

            Carolyn Singleton and her attorney Maria Smith of the Legal Aid Society talked about their successful challenge of the welfare system in the Courts. George Zeller of the Council of Economic Opportunities gave a bleak outlook on the job prospects and the major recession being felt by the mothers on welfare. Professor Marey Joyce Green of Cleveland State and the American Association of University Women talked about the horrible rules against women gaining a college education as a legitimate work experience. Ruth Gray of the Empowerment Center talked about her agencies work with low-income mothers and their problems in finding housing, jobs, childcare, justice within the system, and healthcare.

            In the end the group passed a series of recommendations to be forwarded to elected officials and community leaders. They will take the first part of the year to begin to meet with organizations and individuals to begin to build support for the platform passed at the forum.

 

Cuyahoga County

Anti-Poverty Human Rights Platform—2003

Passed November 15, 2003

 

Restore federal protections and uniform guidelines for families.

            The preservation of the family is the single highest principle for all those interacting with the family. Loss of cash assistance should never be used as justification for the removal of the children from the family. There should never be a complete removal of resources from a family.

            Medicaid should be extended to all family members for those making under 200% of the Federal poverty threshold.

            Households that earn less than 200% of poverty should be entitled to a state earned income tax credit. Households that earn less than poverty level wages should receive the maximum tax credit allowable in an attempt to lift their yearly income above poverty.

            There should be a hardship exemption for those experiencing the following barriers to stability, but all those facing a hardship should be entitled to the benefits and support services that are provided those on cash assistance:

  • Domestic violence victims.
  • Those struggling with an addiction, mental illness or other physical or behavioral health barrier.
  • Families with children under 3 years old
  • Households that cannot find employment that pays a family friendly wage.
  • Families that cannot find safe, decent, affordable housing.
  • Unemployed working families.
  • Families with children that have a disability.
  • Kinship caregivers.
  • Standards should be set and maintained for how workers and staff interact with welfare clients. Federal law should provide equal assistance for immigrants with adequate translation services should be provided at all welfare centers and programs.

Work activity should meet the individual needs of the family

            The definition of work activity should be expanded to include:

  • Full time care to a child.
  • Vocational training without any time limit.
  • Education, including elementary and secondary education, literacy, ESL, GED, and higher education.
  • Counseling or other activities to address domestic or sexual violence, mental illness, English proficiency, substance abuse for the adult or children of the family. Every hour of class time of adult or secondary education as well as higher education equals two hours of work.
  • Public jobs programs should be established to ensure that work and training are available to parents with limited work experience. The federal requirement for participation in work related activities should correspond to the family’s situation including family size, access to childcare, and barriers to full time employment.
  • Transportation should be included as a work support.

Effective parenting should be encouraged and supported.

            The County should place a monetary value on raising children that would enable payment of dollars currently used for Foster care to go directly to parents in danger of losing their children.

            Children in a family should never lose any of the above because of sanctions, and sanctioning should end as soon as the family complies with welfare rules.

            There must be a commitment to providing affordable, accessible childcare and creating more quality day care, after school programs, and youth centers.

            Care giving should be recognized as a viable work activity. This should include those who choose to care for their own children.

A complete study of the impact of welfare reform needs to be devised and put into place.

            The State of Ohio requires an annual report be delivered to the state legislature detailing the impact of the changes in the welfare system on the counties in Ohio. This has yet to be done.

Replace process-oriented measures of state performance with outcome measures, such as poverty reduction and family and child-well being.

            Require States to and make publicly available data on their performance. Require States to demonstrate that their programs are meeting the needs of low-income families and contributing to the goal of reducing poverty.

            Since welfare reform disproportionably impacts women and communities of color, communities need to report on the economic devastation among women and minority populations with recommendation for correcting the imbalance.

            Provide an inflation adjustment to the TANF block grant, and greater funding to states when the economy weakens within those states.

A Moratorium on Further Application of Ohio Works First Rules.

            The 1997 Ohio Works First rules (“ welfare reform”) should be suspended until the above recommendations are in place.

Copyright to the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless and the Homeless Grapevine Cleveland Ohio December 2003 Issue 63.