What happens when you make welfare recipients work in order to receive their benefits? This was exactly what the state of Mississippi wanted to know. And now, three months into their new program, they’re beginning to see some answers.
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Welfare reform had been around for a while–at least since the 1990s–but most programs died off when the economy collapsed. When unemployment crept higher, politicians felt there was no way to make people work in order to receive benefits. After-all, it is precisely those who want to work but can’t find sufficient employment that government assistance is designed to assist.
Yet more people have noticed a troubling trend. Without the mandate that pairs work and assistance, many are sitting by, taking the assistance, and not putting forth any effort to find work. At all.
So Mississippi (along with a growing number of states) has enacted a new welfare policy that says you must work or volunteer at least 20 hours a week in order to qualify for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP).
This has put some welfare recipients in a tough spot. Even if they can’t find paying work, they have to volunteer. One way or the other, they have to work. And this, it seems, is having the desired effect.
“I’m working here as part of the SNAP program. For doing 40 hours a month in exchange for keeping my food stamps,” Percy Fayard, who is volunteering, told an AZFamily.com reporter.
Fayard’s been volunteering with another relief organization, Feed My Sheep, in Gulfport, Mississippi.
“I’m in a current state of job search and I’m trying to make sure that I can still at least afford to live,” he said.
Fayard attitude seems to reflect the goals of the new policy.
“I’m not as much focused on consequences of a politician’s decision or a policy change,” said Fayard. “I’m more focused on my reality and my stance right now, and I’m actually just trying to get by day to day.”
“Really, it’s more of a job opportunity to help you get out into the job world,” said volunteer Sharon House “and being up here helps you out a lot.”
“As tough as it may be, if I’ve got to do it, I can’t let anything stop me or get in my way. I have goals, I have dreams, it’s life,” said Fayard.
While the experiences of a few select participants can hardly be seen as representational, their voices represent what many in the community are experiencing. Work defines us. It gives us a sense of identity. Even those of us who refuse to let work define who we are still feel a sense of purpose.
And it is this volunteer requirement that is so effectively separating the genuinely needy from those who are just looking to milk the government for all they can. There have been many in the state that, when faced with the opportunity to work for their assistance, have simply walked away. Even volunteering 20 hours a week seems like too much to ask. And, as many of us would likely say–Good riddance.