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Is It Time For A Welfare COLA?

March 9, 2007
By COLIN POITRAS, Courant Staff Writer

Community advocates in Hartford are urging lawmakers to pass a bill this year that would give families receiving financial assistance from the state a cost-of-living adjustment.

Advocates from Hartford Organizing for Power & Equality (HOPE) and Single Mothers on the Move say legislators last authorized a cost-of-living adjustment for welfare recipients in 1991.

Susan Reynolds, a single mother and one of the proponents of the bill, wants the adjustment to be applied to people receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); State-Administered General Assistance (SAGA) and Supplemental Security Income if they are disabled(SSI).

Natalie Kindred, a social service analyst for the Yankee Institute for Public Policy, a free-market think tank at Trinity College in Hartford, questions whether increasing cash assistance is the best way to help struggling families exit from welfare programs.

"Sixteen years have passed since the last cost-of-living increase was granted for people receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, State-Administered General Assistance or state Supplemental Security Income. In that time, legislators have voted for pay raises for themselves twice. Yet each year, the COLA bill is cut from the budget.

Temporary assistance is for families in need. It is not for life, just 21 months. Anyone with a family can end up on TANF. A family with one child in Hartford receives about $443 a month. That's not a lot of money when you think about it. Put it in perspective. This is the money that these families are using to pay their bills. Not everyone who receives TANF has federal Sect. 8 housing assistance to help with their housing needs. So how are they paying their rent and utilities?

Single mothers and their children living on TANF are not lazy. They do want to work. In fact, unless they are exempt from working due to one of their children having a serious illness they are required to work or go to school for training so that they can join the work force. There are many things that these women have to do on a daily basis just to ensure that their assistance is not cut.

Let's talk about what this is really about. It's not about Sara and Johnny and their mom. It's about the MONEY! In 2005, Connecticut received $266.8 million from the federal government to help pay for TANF programs. Yet less than 5 percent of this money actually was spent on cash assistance to families with children. More than 90 percent of all the money went to other programs, like the Department of Children and Families and pregnancy prevention programs - but not to where it was needed and what it is meant to do. Help those who need help! Come on Connecticut, let's wake up and put some of that 96 percent back into the hands of people who actually need it."

- Susan Reynolds, member, Single Mothers on the Move

"Benefit increases will not help families unless accompanied by job training. Attaining and maintaining employment is the single most important factor in reducing dependency. Five years after work-oriented federal welfare reforms were enacted in 1996, families receiving TANF in Connecticut decreased by 55.2 percent.

For some, welfare benefits can give the help needed to raise healthy children and get back on track. On the other hand, benefits can perpetuate an impoverished situation and promote the passing of "welfare culture" from one generation to the next.

The intangible benefits to future generations of seeing a parent working are enormous. Studies by University of Houston economics Professor John J. Antel and others have shown that whether a parent works can greatly affect children's expectations regarding adult roles.

Welfare recipients need the education, skills training and job preparation that will enable them to become self-sufficient. One clear lesson of the 1996 federal welfare reform act is that education and job skills provide the incentives needed to join the work place. And with each year of job experience, the potential for greater earnings and benefits increases.

Forty years of welfare dependency since President Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty" prove that simply throwing money at the problem does not, by itself, dramatically decrease poverty or increase self-sufficiency. If benefit increases do not coincide with skills training and job preparation, no one benefits in the long term.

The request for a cost-of-living adjustment for benefits should be granted only if it is accompanied by proven welfare-to-work programs."

- Natalie Kindred, social service analyst, Yankee Institute for Public Policy

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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