From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Workshop offers strategies to those striving to reduce poverty

by Scott Cooper, for the Inland Register

(From the Sept. 13, 2001 edition of the Inland Register

Millions of people live in poverty in the U.S., although if you looked at welfare rolls, you might not think so.

Congress reformed welfare programs in 1996, doing away with the lifetime guarantee of public assistance and establishing a five-year lifetime limit for cash grants, called TANF (Temporary Assistance to Needy Families). At that time, Network, a national Catholic social justice lobby in Washington, D.C., began a study of “short- and long-term effects of the new legislation by looking at the real-life experiences of people living in poverty”.

The survey of services in 10 states was recently published as “Welfare Reform: How Do We Define Success?” Four major findings are significant as Congress prepares to reauthorize TANF during the coming legislative session.

  • Large numbers of people continue to subsist on household incomes far below the federal poverty line. Forty-seven percent of people surveyed reported annual household incomes of less than $8,500. Health problems and unstable housing were common, and most had children.
  • Many welfare reform “success” stories — people with incomes above federal poverty lines — still go hungry and lack adequate health care. Of those working and no longer receiving food stamps and Medicaid, 78 percent report incomes that do not cover the benefits they are no longer able to receive from the state. A majority reported unpaid medical bills and one-third had to forego needed dental work because of the cost.
  • Families with children are going to soup kitchens, food pantries and free clinics because their incomes and benefits are not sufficient to meet basic needs. Two-thirds of respondents have minor children. One in five parents say they are unable to meet their children’s health care needs.
  • Jobs and marriage — two of the stated goals of the 1996 welfare reform law — do not necessarily move people out of poverty. Some 37 percent of respondents are married or partnered, with at least one member of the couple employed. They thus meet two of welfare reform’s major goals — two-parent families with employment.

In Spokane, the 14th Annual Client Survey from the Second Harvest Food Bank of the Inland Northwest reports that 47 percent of those interviewed in August 2000 came from a household where at least one adult was working. Nearly 62 percent of heads-of-household worked sometime during the year leading up to the survey, and 28 percent of those respondents had worked two jobs at once — yet they still needed to visit neighborhood food pantries.

Network “asserts that welfare legislation must have as a goal — and serve in practice — the elimination of poverty rather than simply the reduction of welfare rolls.”

The U.S. Catholic bishops challenge us to stand with those in the margins and those struggling in poverty in their 1999 statement, “In All Things Charity”:

“The ‘cries of those who are poor’ in our society demand new and renewed commitment to systemic social change through organizing, community outreach, legislative networks, racial reconciliation, social policy development, coalition-building, and public and private sector partnerships for economic development.”

People who want to reduce poverty are invited to a workshop, “Making a Noise about the Need,” set for St. Ann Parish, 2120 E. First Ave. in Spokane, on Thursday, Sept. 20, from 9 a.m.-4 p.m. The workshop will help participants develop skills, knowledge and attitudes to “make a noise about the need” to positively affect TANF reauthorization.

The cost is $15, including lunch — some scholarships are available. The day will include prayer, Network’s vision of economic equity, stories from people in poverty, findings from Net-work’s report, recommendations for reauthorizing TANF, and how to lobby Members of Congress. The workshop will be one of 21 held around the country.

(Cooper is director of the Parish Social Ministry Office. For more information call him at 358-4273. The registration deadline is Monday, Sept. 17)

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