welfare reform may force children into streets, CA experts fear

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Tue, 16 Jun 1998 01:08:24 -0700 (PDT)


FWD  http://biz.yahoo.com/bw/980609/uc_berkele_6.html
     June 9, 1998 - Company Press Release


     WELFARE REFORM'S EFFECT ON CHILDREN EXAMINED AT FREE UC BERKELEY


Extension Program SAN FRANCISCO--(BUSINESS WIRE)--June 9, 1998--With
the 1996 federal welfare reform act in the final stages of being
implemented in California counties, experts continue to fear that many
children will inadvertently suffer as a consequence of the reforms.

Dr. Richard Barth and Dr. Jill Duerr Berrick, professors at UC
Berkeley's School of Social Welfare, lead a list of distinguished
panelists who will discuss the reform's impact on children at a free
public program co-sponsored by UC Berkeley Extension and the School of
Social Welfare at UC Berkeley. The program is presented in conjunction
with UC Berkeley Extension's award-winning program ``Children and the
Changing Family,'' and is partially funded by the Cowell Foundation.

``Implementing Welfare Reform in California: How Will Children Fare?''
will take place on Thursday, June 11, from 4 to 6 pm, at UC Berkeley
Extension International Center, 2222 Harold Way, Berkeley. There is no
charge for the event. For more information or to reserve a space, call
(510) 642- 4111; or visit Extension's website at
www.berkeley.edu/unex.

Barth and Duerr Berrick will be joined by Will Lightbourne, general
manager of the San Francisco Department of Human Services and Chair of
the Bay Area Social Services Consortium (BASSC); state assemblywoman
Dion Aroner; and Ethel Long-Scott, executive director of the Women's
Economic Agenda Project.

According to Barth, under the old welfare program a single mother with
two children received approximately $550 a month, and she could expect
to receive benefits until her children were grown.

Under the new system, the family could receive about the same amount
per month, but only if they meet and maintain stringent new criteria.
For example, children must be immunized, must attend school on a
consistent basis and parents cannot give birth to another child while
receiving welfare, or the family's aid will be reduced by 25 percent.
Parents who are convicted of a felony or a drug crime are deemed
ineligible to receive a portion of financial aid for their lifetime.

``At best, the new program won't harm a large number of families. Many
will likely do fine, and some will even succeed. At greatest risk are
the most vulnerable families who lack social, economic and educational
skills,'' says Duerr Berrick.

The new system also imposes a two-year time limit on parental aid,
and, if the parent fails to find a job within two years of receiving
welfare, financial sanctions are enforced. While the government will
subsidize child care for the working parent for two years, after that
the cost becomes the parent's responsibility.

``Minimum wage jobs make paying high child care costs unbearable for
many,'' says Duerr Berrick. ``Children are also more likely to get
sick during their first six months at day care than at any other time.
These two factors result in unstable job performance by parents,
causing many to lose new jobs.'' According to Duerr Berrick, almost
half of all welfare recipients reapply for welfare within three years.


Time limits and financial sanctions may result in greater numbers of
American children suffering in poverty, suggests Duerr Berrick.
Pointing to research demonstrating that the lower the family income,
the less chances a child has to succeed in life, Duerr Berrick lists
poor nutrition, health care and educational opportunities as among the
debilitating consequences of poverty.

Barth fears that financial sanctions will force families out of their
homes and onto the street. Any decrease in financial aid may make
housing out of reach for many poor families, and children may end up
living out of cars or on the street with their parents. While poverty
does not necessarily equate to child neglect, Barth speculates that
government officials will face more tough questions about when it is
in children's best interest to remove them from their parents.

Also, research demonstrates that the longer a family remains in
poverty, the harder it is to climb out. Although 20 percent of each
county's welfare recipients are eligible for time limit exemptions,
child advocates believe the number of families in need of exemptions
may be higher.

There may also be hidden social consequences of the legislation. For
example, the new program exempts grandparents from the time limit
imposed on parents -- and many of these family members have been
re-enlisted for child-raising over the past decade. Potentially, this
could encourage parents to turn over child-raising responsibilities to
grandparents for longer periods of time, further altering the family
structure.

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