Welfare

New Study on Abortion Reduction

The heated abortion debate has up to this time been focused on legal measures. A new study commissioned by Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good concludes that government social spending and economic conditions do more to reduce abortions than legal strategies such as parental consent laws.

Joseph Wright (Penn State University) and Michael Bailey's (Georgetown University) examined the dramatic drop in [...]

What the Waters Revealed

What the Waters Revealed

Hurricane Katrina destroyed entire cities, the lives of more than a thousand people, the homes of hundreds of thousands, and the confidence of millions in the government's commitment and ability to protect them. Then Hurricane Rita reflooded New Orleans and caused millions to flee their homes in Texas, including many who had already fled there from their homes in New Orleans. Much of New Orleans was emptied of its people, and broad areas of the Gulf Coast in Mississippi, Alabama, and Texas were devastated. More than 1 million Americans are now displaced across the country, and their fellow Americans around the nation are trying to take them in, perhaps for a long time.

But the waters of Hurricane Katrina also washed away our national denial of the shockingly high number of Americans living in poverty and our reluctance to admit the still-persistent connection of race and poverty in America, and perhaps even eroded the political power of a conservative anti-social services ideology that, for decades now, has weakened the idea of the common good.

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Sojourners Magazine November 2005
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Hanging the Poor Out to Dry

The California state capitol building in Sacramento was transformed one morning in January into a tenement house strung with laundry lines. Parents from Low-Income Families' Empowerment Through Education, a grassroots organization of low-income parents, hung more than 150 shirts from poor children and families throughout the state, each with a message about how Gov. Schwarzenegger's proposed budget cuts target poor families and children. The proposed welfare cuts, according to Vivian Hain, "will take the shirts off our backs and the diapers off our babies."

More than 150 parents and children from CalWORKs - California's welfare to work program - and their supporters traveled from 15 counties to Sacramento to send the governor their message. Some wrote on tiny "onesie" baby shirts and others on giant T-shirts. "The governor's cuts will slash my children's benefits, which are already at 53 percent of the poverty line," said Rya Frontera, a CalWORKs student in Huntington Beach, "leaving me to support a family of three on less than $500 a month. Gov. Schwarzenegger, don't balance the budget on the backs of my children!"

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Sojourners Magazine April 2004
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Round, Round, I Get Around

‘Every once in a while, a truly brilliant idea comes along: the wheel, Einstein's Theory of Relativity, Cannoli...you get the idea." So say Tom and Ray of NPR's "Car Talk" radio program about the Good News Garages in Vermont and Massachusetts. Following the example of the folks in New England, people in Charleston, West Virginia, have established their own Good News Mountaineer Garage.

The agenda is simple. They fix cars and give them away. As Tom and Ray joke: "Not a good business plan!" Unless one is in the business of helping move folks from welfare to work.

"People want to help others—I believe it is a part of our basic nature," said the program's executive director, Barbara Bayes, who grew up in an impoverished area of eastern Kentucky, "and this program addresses the most difficult barrier for poor people in rural areas" in their efforts to break their cycle of poverty.

"In West Virginia, one out of four low-income people listed lack of transportation as the main problem in maintaining employment or getting to job training," said Bayes, citing the West Virginia Research Task Force on Welfare Reform. It was to deal with that problem that the Good News Mountaineer Garage was developed by the West Virginia Council of Churches, the state Department of Health and Human Resources, the Bureau of Family and Children, and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation.

The garage, which was founded in 1999, serves Kanawha and Lincoln counties. Lincoln county has no public transportation. Kanawha, which includes the state capital of Charleston, has a limited amount.

People living along the public transportation routes are less likely to receive a car from the program, because the group's leaders don't want to discourage the use of public transportation.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 2002
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From Timid to Towering

‘Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world," Margaret Mead once said. "In fact, it is the only thing that ever has." Watching the documentary A Day's Work, A Day's Pay will convince you that Mead had it exactly right.

The hour-long film, shot from 1997 to 2000, traces the personal and political evolution of three welfare recipients living in New York City who move from welfare to work through a program called the Work Experience Program (WEP). An opening scene contains Mayor Rudy Giuliani's claim that the program would provide welfare recipients with dignity and full-time employment. After watching A Day's Work, it's obvious that WEP was more about getting people off welfare rolls than out of poverty and into good jobs.

Jose Nicolau, who thought he was best suited for custodial work, was assigned by the WEP program to be a janitor. One moving scene shows Jose washing out trash bins. "Like an artist puts his signature on a drawing," he says, "I want to put my signature on the way I work." Jackie Marte, a 23-year-old mother of two, says, "All we want is decent jobs. We want to live like everyone else. We want to get paid for the work that we do."

Juan Galan is a former WEP worker who turned organizer when he was hired by ACORN (the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now). After experiencing extreme working conditions in the program and the harassment of people on the streets toward WEP workers, he decided he was "not going to take it any more." Galan began to organize WEP workers around a bill introduced in the New York City Council that would secure a grievance procedure, better pay, and job training for WEP participants.

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Sojourners Magazine July-August 2002
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