The Common Good
March-April 1998

From Welfare to What?

by Marian Abrecht, Aaron McCarroll Gallegos | March-April 1998

While it may be too soon to tell if the 1996 Welfare Reform Act has succeeded in its goal of moving people from welfare to work, there are early signs from the streets that the attempts ...

While it may be too soon to tell if the 1996 Welfare Reform Act has succeeded in its goal of moving people from welfare to work, there are early signs from the streets that the attempts to make this transition hasn't been easy for many people.

The International Union of Gospel Missions, which provides emergency food and shelter and other assistance to homeless people and others in need, found that 20 percent of those checking into their missions in 1997 became homeless because of the loss of government benefits in the past year. The mission's "Snap Shot Survey" of more than 15,000 homeless people also showed that the homeless population in 1997 consisted of more older people than in previous years.

"Even though we have not yet seen the total impact of welfare reform, people are already falling through the cracks," said Rev. Stephen Burger, executive director of IUGM.

In another study, the Preamble Center for Public Policy found that "the economy is projected to create only about half as many net new low-skill jobs as there are welfare recipients targeted to enter the labor market" in the coming year. Welfare Reform: The Jobs Aren't There explains that "if normal growth in the labor force is factored in, the ratio of job seekers to jobs nationally is nearly three to one."

The report was released by the organization Jobs With Justice for the National Day of Action for Welfare/Workfare Justice on December 10, 1997. The event was held to raise public awareness about the effects of welfare reform and to push for the creation of more jobs in the public and private sectors. For a copy of Welfare Reform: The Jobs Aren't There, contact Jobs With Justice at (202) 434-1106.

Promise Keepers Navigate Local Politics

While some might question Promise Keepers' stated intention of "taking back America's cities," few can criticize the volunteer labor the group has offered to the urban areas where they have held their rallies. Still, even the best intentions can get caught up in the tangled web of local politics.

The Washington City Paper, an alternative weekly newspaper in the nation's capital, is critical of the fact that though the Washington, D.C. school district couldn't organize the local means to repair the city's schools so that they could open on time last fall, they were able to help fund a visit of Promise Keepers volunteers to patch up the run-down buildings.

A political gossip columnist at the City Paper alleges that D.C. school maintenance chief Charles Williams-who they say has attended PK events in the past-spent nearly a half-million dollars of tax payers' money to transport Promise Keepers to work sites in D.C. and host them while they served the city by repairing schools during two separate visits in 1997. Williams' office contends that it cost the city about $60,000 to host the Promise Keepers volunteers, but that the Washington school district received nearly $600,000 worth of skilled labor in exchange.

In the midst of wrangling over figures, Harold Brinkley, PK's director of church relations, didn't allow the controversy to put a damper on the group's motives for coming to D.C. Promise Keepers' "whole effort is to serve the city and not get involved in the city's [political] problems," he said. "We saw a need and sought to fill it according to our Christian commitment."

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