"Welfare Reform" Reform

With Clinton now elected to a second four year term and the Republicans once again firmly in control of Congress, I think it is time, once again, to revisit a suggestion I made last year in my "Contract with America II" series.

To quote the appropriate statement; "We are one of the richest nations on earth. We have the ability to ensure that all of our citizens are well fed, well educated and healthy.... We must make it a priority to protect the poor, the needy and the weak in our society. We must devise and implement policies which help our fellow citizens once again become productive members of the work force."

I still stand firmly behind this belief and offer the following suggestion for the next step in the so-called "Welfare Reform" movement.

We have, in nearly every area of the nation, government buildings standing either completely or nearly empty. These wasted and costly buildings should be put to use in training and assisting single mothers in their move from Welfare to a steady job. I propose that the federal government open these facilities for day-care services for these single parents. How? I'm glad you cared enough to ask.

We should begin by investigating the educational background of Welfare recipients in each local region for credentials in areas focusing on child development, child psychology, teachers, health care workers, past day care employment, etc. After suitable legal and psychological checks, these individuals would then be brought together in a training environment to learn the art and business of running a day care center. The government could contract out, on a short term basis, the initial education for these workers who would eventually begin teaching the future classes of women. The children of the first classes would be provided personal child care through government subsidies or direct payment for home care, whichever is more appropriate.

Once the initial class has learned to conduct this business on a daily basis, the schools would begin accepting the children of other Welfare recipients who would then be free to find and train for new jobs or to begin the educational process, either in the same building at different training arrangements or in the public school system, which would lead to their acquiring the skills necessary to become productive members of society. The federal and state governments would, at first, subsidize these ventures but, after enough workers are trained and put into position, children of local working families can be accepted into the schools with the parents paying hourly fees according to a sliding scale of income. This additional income would allow the centers to eventually become self-sustaining businesses and minimize the need for subsidies.

In order to give the welfare recipients an incentive to undertake this responsibility, I believe that they should be paid a small stipend for their work, in addition to their regular benefits. This would allow them to begin to save for their future, see present gain from current effort and to learn the pleasure of earning a true income. As the centers become self-sufficient, the employee's Welfare benefits could be reduced at the same time as their wages increased. Also, to insure continuity in health care for both the employees and their children, health benefits must be included as a part of this package. In a predetermined amount of time and at a set income level, the employee would be completely off of Welfare, fully supported by the wages and benefits of the job and paying taxes back into the system.

Employees who desire to train or work in other fields will be encouraged to move on in order to allow new recipients to enter the training system. Those who wish to continue to work in the day care area can be utilized as trainers for any area where their new skills are needed.

This idea is only a fundamental beginning for small portions of the Welfare population. Nevertheless, the essential parts of such a plan can be adopted to other areas vital to the process of moving Welfare parents out of the system and back into the work place. It can be modified to provide peer counseling and support, transportation, nutritional and health advice, assistance in raising and disciplining their children and other forms of help in all the many areas single parents simply didn't have access to which led them to have to depend on Welfare in the first place.

While the current method of "Welfare Reform" is a punitive, mean and dead-end system, a plan such as this at least allows recipients to acquire some sort of skills and to learn the art of getting and holding a job, a skill most Welfare recipients have never had the opportunity to master. Yes, it will be an additional cost to the taxpayers for the first few years and, yes, those of you who constantly complain about the huge 2% of your tax dollar that once went to this system for protecting women and children will complain even louder, but the fact of the matter is that the poor deserve our help in the process of learning to provide a decent living for their families.

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