Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Massachusetts fails former welfare recipients

Welfare benefits have never been high, but once upon a time, if you were really careful, you could raise your family with some dignity. Of course, in 1987, the year I mustered up my courage to get off welfare and take a job for the princely sum of $10,000 a year, the average apartment rent was $400, gasoline was under a dollar a gallon, and a dozen eggs only sixty-five cents. Welfare benefits then were 37% below the Federal poverty level, about what they are now. But things cost less in 1987.

But change was written on the wall. Reagan had launched his "Welfare Queen" propaganda and by the time Clinton came along the idea of welfare reform was in full swing. Not that welfare didn't need to be reformed, but what Clinton version we njicknamed "welfare deform."

In the thirteen years since welfare reform was instituted nationally, the number of welfare recipients in Massachusetts has fallen by more than half, to about 46,000. The Commonwealth has saved more than $680 million. But poverty levels have remained nearly unchanged-- 10.4% of Massachusetts residents lived in poverty in 1997, 9.7% in 2003 and 11.1% in 2005-- and less than half of the money Massachusetts saved has been put back into programs that help poor families survive. Meanwhile more and more working families, who'd like to stay off public assistance if they could, move closer to the poverty line.

Dan Ring at the Springfield Republican reports on some of welfare reforms failures identified in a new study released April 1 by the Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center .

My organization, Arise for Social Justice, is starting to look at what it would take to get a cost of living increase for welfare recipients. With two year time limits, benefits are set so low it very difficult to get ahead enough to get off welfare without calamity. We are already working with the Mass Coalition for the Homeless to get a COLA for recipients of EAEDC-- Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled and Children-- a barebones program that provides basic monthly assistance to nearly 5,000 elders and 12,000 persons with disabilities. The EAEDC grant for recipients living in housing is currently $304/month; homeless recipients receive only $92/month;.it has not been increased in twenty years!

If you live in Massachusetts let your legislators know you support this increase-- $46 a month for housed people, $14 a month for the homeless. (I know, it doesn't make sense to me, either, but the idea is, if you live in a shelter you don't have to pay rent!) We won't eliminate poverty with this increase, but it might mean someone can afford a boarding house.

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