Cutting down welfare: the wrong way

“In Georgia, for example, families applying for TANF must face waiting periods before they can get cash assistance, which Spatz calls ‘the welfare equivalent of a poll tax or literacy test — with caseworkers offering to send children into foster care or put them up for adoption to ease the burden.’
“As a result, Georgia is now spending more on adoption services and foster care than it does on assistance to families, Spatz writes.”
Welfare “Reform” Laws Deepen, Perpetuate Poverty – Sherwood Ross

Welfare reform these days seems to be all about getting less people on benefits and, ultimately, spending less money. But if spending less money was really the goal, there are far better ways to go about it – investment in routes out of poverty is far more effective, for example, in a similar fashion to preventative healthcare and programs to help addicts being more cost-effective than cleaning up the mess later. But even if you don’t believe that, surely pushing people off benefits at any cost can’t be the right answer.

Caps on how long you can draw a benefit (in many states in the US the limit is 48 months, down from 60), restrictions on what you can do while unemployed, regulations that force people to take any job, no matter how low it pays or how little chance for promotion there is or how difficult it is to get to or how bad the hours are – these things are extremely successful at getting people off unemployment. But they’re terrible at getting people out of poverty.

“Tens of thousands of low-income mothers were made to quit college to do up to 35 hours per week of unpaid ‘workfare.’” – Diana Spatz, executive director of LIFETIME.

I’ve blogged before about the hoops I’m jumping through to get back to school. I still don’t have everything organised – I need to get someone from Massey to fill out page 2 of my application for limited full-time status, which is a pain because Massey is half the country away, and then I need to get an appointment to talk to someone from Studylink to redo my loan contract because their system doesn’t understand name changes. Studylink doesn’t have an office in Christchurch, so I have to do that through WINZ somehow and hope I can find someone who knows what they’re doing.

Speaking of WINZ, I took in my last(!) medical certificate yesterday to get my sickness benefit extended to when I start uni. What should have been a quick in-and-out took fifteen minutes. I remember when all you had to do was put the form in a box. Then they took the box away and you had to wait in line to hand it over at the counter and wait for them to photocopy your ID. Now you have to wait in line to be told to sit and wait for a case worker to be free, go over to their desk and wait for them to scan in both your ID and the medical certificate, wait for the system to send it through, wait for them to check it’s right and attach it to your file… I know why they’re doing it (it’s useful to have the information stored digitally in case a branch is put out of operation unexpectedly, as Sydenham was) but do they need me to sit there and wait while they do it? And the real welfare reforms, that the government wants to put through soon, haven’t even come in yet. This is just a simple procedural change, but it’s one that seems to take up an awful lot of time for both staff and clients – it seems like it would be a lot more efficient to have someone just scanning in all the documents and matching them to the appropriate files, all at once.

At least that isn’t as damaging as the removal of course-related cost loans for part-time students though, or the restriction on studying (even a single paper, which is about a quarter of a full-time study load) while on the sickness benefit, or any number of other policies that make it harder and harder for people to get the education to improve their lives.

I can just be glad we’re not [on a wide scale] taking away people’s kids here yet.

“I’m not a bad mother, I’m just unemployed,” one woman complained to Georgia State Senator Donzella James, who is getting calls from constituents whose children are being taken away by the Department of Family and Child Services.

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