Welfare To Work - Children more stressed - Moms home less FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sat, 31 Jul 1999 15:03:57 -0700 (PDT)


http://www.phillynews.com/programs/aprint
FWD  Philadelphia Daily News - July 27, 1999

ADJUSTMENT FOR THE YOUNG AS PARENTS GO BACK TO WORK IS PROFOUND

Kids have lots of coping to do

[This is another in an ongoing series tracking
welfare reform's impact on the Philadelphia neighborhood
with the highest concentration of welfare recipients.]

by Mensah M. Dean
Daily News Staff Writer

Summer has a way of bringing children together. Splashing it up in city
pools. Running through the spray of open fire hydrants. Earning while
learning at day camps.

But the kids of Kensington and Port Richmond pursue their summer fun
against a sullen backdrop of fleet-footed drug dealers, graffiti-scarred
buildings and trashed cars.

Their neighborhood is among the poorest in the state - home to the highest
number of families on welfare.

The Kent district, one of 19 in the city, straddles parts of Kensington and
Port Richmond and is home to 3,495 parents and 8,517 children who remain on
the welfare rolls.

In this terrain, it is easy to find youngsters who know the parlance and
practice of welfare.

Cynthia Estremera, 12, is a pro at buying groceries with the family's
Department of Public Welfare-issued ACCESS card. "I know the code and
everything," she confidently said.

"And if you need stitches, you don't have to pay," her friend, Danielle
Carter, 10, said, noting another function of the card while pointing to a
small scar under her left eye caused by a fall in the third grade.

Cynthia and Danielle - among a group of pre-teens sprucing up their
neighborhood under the auspices of the New Creation Lutheran Church's
pre-work and leadership program - also know that they may be among the last
generations to grow up on welfare.

Changes in federal law have created lifetime limits of five years for
receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Recipients must
also work at least part time after being on the rolls for two consecutive
years.

"We know welfare reform because we have a reason to know - my mom has told
me what it is," said Cynthia, whose mother has a part-time job at New
Creation Church.

"Welfare reform is a good thing because it's giving you a head start.
Because if we didn't have it, my mom wouldn't be in school," Danielle
added. "Now, when she gets out of school, she will be able to get us what
we need first, and then what we want."

Under the mandate of welfare reform, parents like Danielle's mother have
been galvanized into action. In the past two years, the city welfare rolls
have shrunk nearly 30 percent, as thousands of parents have gone to work.

At the same time, they struggle on the transportation and child-care
fronts. And administrative glitches in the Welfare Department have led many
to experience additional problems trying to keep the benefits they are
entitled to once they find employment, according to a report released last
month by the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, a New York-based
nonprofit research firm.

Studies and reports are starting to come out weighing the early impact of
welfare reform on adults. But not much - beyond anecdotal snapshots - is
known about how the children of welfare are doing.

Despite the fact that two-thirds of TANF recipients are children, "no one
has really been looking at the impact on kids," said Ann Collins, associate
director of the National Center for Children in Poverty at Columbia
University. A few federally funded studies are under way, but none in
Philadelphia.

"Most welfare reform efforts are focused on moving adults into the work
force, with little attention to the children beyond making sure they're in
child care while their parents are working," Collins said.

It is apparent that scores of mothers and children have not fallen to
homelessness and destitution, as predicted by many critics of welfare
reform.

As of July 7, only 31 recipients out of some 20,000 statewide had been
notified that their checks would be stopped temporarily for failing to
comply with work rules, a state Welfare Department spokeswoman said.

Deputy Mayor Donna Cooper has said the city is prepared to juggle resources
to help those in need.

If just 1,000 children became part of the city's social services network
because their parents lost welfare and couldn't afford to keep them, Cooper
said, their care would cost the city close to $3 million annually.

But that's an expense that the city, so far, hasn't had to bear.

"We have not yet experienced an increased demand in child welfare
services," said Patricia Bathurst, spokeswoman for the city's Department of
Human Services.

That's not surprising, Bathurst added, considering that the "sanctions have
only just begun."

***

On a lazy afternoon at the corner of Howard and Ontario streets, the
bastardized classical music chiming from a dingy ice cream truck worked
like a charm.

A stream of children - none older than 7 or 8 - left the Recreation
Department's Schmidt Playground and headed for Abdul Ramdan's truck parked
across the street.

He quickly dispensed old-fashioned vanilla ice cream cones, lollipops and
other sweets.

After returning to the playground, the children got back to business,
munching their treats as they scaled jungle gyms, soared back and forth on
swings and tried to avoid being "it" in a spirited game of tag.

As a supervisor of the center, Felix Rivera, 55, sees to it that this
corner remains a safe haven for the children.

Over the last few months, Rivera has noticed that more children are
arriving earlier and staying later at the center. He believes it's a result
of once-unemployed mothers having to work.

On a recent day, a man arrived at the center with five children and a
problem. After escorting the kids to the play area, he pulled a bottle of
beer from under his shirt and took a swig.

In Spanish, Rivera told the man alcohol was not allowed. Without a fuss, he
retreated to the other side of the fence - and continued drinking.

"You let them bring beer in here, tomorrow it will be something else,"
Rivera said, sounding exasperated.

"I've seen the changes, this area has become poorer - a decay in the city,
you know," he continued.

"Like over there, that used to be a basketball court when the school was
brand new and beautiful," he said of the parking lot adjacent to Cramp
Elementary, where 78 percent of the students come from welfare families. A
forlorn car sat in the lot, its wheels and windows gone.

"Young lady, be careful," he switched gears, prompted by a 4-year-old
boldly standing atop the sliding board. She quickly heeded his warning and
sat down.

Deanna Crawford, almost 9, lives a few blocks from the center on Waterloo
Street. She has mixed emotions over welfare reform. She is glad that her
mom is making more money than ever, but troubled that they see less of each
other.

Last month, her mother, Patricia Myers, 37, found work at a Taco Bell in
Langhorne which, at $6.25 an hour, pays a dollar more than a Taco Bell
that's within walking distance of home.

The salary's also more than the $5.15 an hour Myers was making at her first
post-reform job in the cafeteria at Cramp, where Deanna and her sister
Leeann, 10, are students.

But now Myers commutes on three buses, which don't get her home until 7 p.m.

"I liked it when she goes home with me. Now it's too much working," Deanna
said between sips of Mountain Dew on the front steps.

What's worse is that the bigger salary is "still not enough," said Myers,
who continues to receive food stamps but not cash assistance. "I need a
second job: one to pay bills and one to take care of them."

"No way," Deanna said, shaking her head. "She'd never be home and I
wouldn't be able to sleep because I'd be waiting up for her."

After a moment of reflection, Myers assured Deanna that she wouldn't get a
second job - at least until school starts.

***

Life can be tough in Kensington - so tough that Gabriel Rosado, 13, and
Jonathan Torres, 15, won't swim in the public pool closest to their homes.
People have been known to ride bicycles in that pool, the boys said.

Instead, they and their friends troop more than 10 blocks to the Joseph A.
Scanlon Recreation Center at Tioga and J streets, where they've discovered
that roughhousing is kept to a minimum and the water is cleaner.

Despite having to go out of their way to stay cool, Gabriel and Jonathan
don't want to live anyplace else, they confided during a mandatory pool
break.

They don't know much about welfare or if their families ever received it.
They've heard even less about welfare reform. But they thrive on the vibes
of their neighborhood: the fact that people are always outside - even the
gunfire. Yes, the gunfire.

"You can be asleep and you hear all these crazy noises. That's normal to
me. I hear gunshots every two minutes," Jonathan said.

"In the ghetto, I feel more secure. Once my family visited Lancaster and it
was so quiet. I was scared," said Gabriel.

"I tell my mom even if I make a million dollars, I'm still going to live in
the ghetto."

Rather than glamorizing her surroundings, Cynthia in the New Creation
program is trying to understand them. She says there's good and bad in the
neighborhood nicknamed the Badlands. And she's optimistic that her mother's
generation will be able to successfully answer the call of welfare reform.

"Businesses want the best employees. But a lot of adults here maybe dropped
out of high school or something, so employers look at them like they are
low class and don't want them," she said. "But people can change."

END FORWARD

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