Saturday, May 11, 2002

Welfare group criticizes president's reform plan

Coalition: New rules won't reduce poverty

By Dan Klepal,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Members of the Cincinnati Welfare Rights Coalition said Friday that the Bush administration's idea to stiffen work requirements for people on welfare will further entrench the working poor in the cycle of poverty.

        The organization held a town hall meeting in Over-the-Rhine, mainly to build opposition to the president's plan to overhaul welfare reform.

        The proposal in the House would require a 40-hour work week — up from 30 hours — with at least 24 hours on the job, in training or community service. The remaining 16 hours would be defined by the state and could include education.

        Mr. Bush's plan does not increase money states get to implement welfare reform programs.

        The coalition wants the plan changed in major ways:

        • An increase in funds given to the state to, at a minimum, keep up with inflation.

        • Allow education to be counted as the full work requirement to receive a welfare check.

        • End the time limit for families in compliance with the welfare reform rules.

        • Restore full benefits to immigrants.

        Katy Heins, director of the Contact Center, said states are taking a cut in welfare reform money by not getting a cost-of-living increase.

        Ms. Heins also said raising the work requirement is a bad idea.

        “That may mean people working below minimum wage so they can keep their welfare check,” Ms. Heins said.

        Fritz Casey-Leiniger, who works with the Children's Defense Fund, said there has been little decrease in the number of people living in poverty despite the number of people moving off welfare.

        “When you look at the broad picture, there are large numbers of people working in part-time jobs where the average wage is $7 per hour,” Mr. Casey-Leiniger said. “They need to make poverty reduction a goal.”

        Senators Mike DeWine and George Voinovich were scheduled to attend the meeting, but both were in Columbus to meet with President Bush. When neither of the senators' representatives showed up for the meeting, a group of about 20 left for Mr. Voinovich's office.

        The group got into the meeting by telling Tony Condia, Sen. Voinovich's regional representative, that a class of elementary school children wanted to drop by.

        Ms. Heins said she's not concerned about her group losing credibility after deceiving Mr. Condia.

        “I think we have to do, as citizens, what we can to get a meeting with folks in power,” she said. “It's just sad if (they) have time to meet with sixth-graders, but don't have time for constituents.”

        Mr. Condia said the senator's office had been “aggressive” in meeting with welfare reform groups.


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