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Columnist: Could we offer workfare versus welfare?

Jeff Brown

Contributing columnist

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The purpose of this article is to start the process of Troup County, Georgia, becoming a demonstration project for most of the federal and state poverty programs where instead of payments there would be a work equivalency — think Work Projects Administration (WPA) and Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), which were started during the Great Depression. Let’s call ours Troup Workfare.

Some of the programs where workfare would replace present payments include Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), food stamps, Earned Income Tax Credits, disability described as the new welfare, Medicaid, rental assistance, etc.

If you presently work either part time or full time while receiving these benefits, no more than 40 hours of work would be required of that job and/or workfare to equalize the value of the government payments.

Some will say my proposal is cruel. However, I have often seen welfare become a dependency which, like any dependency, has very bad consequences. Meanwhile work transforms people, gives them pride and a chance at the American dream.

Some will say I want to save billions on the backs of the poor. Wrong! This is intended to be a zero-sum game proposal.

Anyone who goes from not working and receiving payments to working will receive no less. Over time many should receive a lot more as they learn skills needed to getting a job in the private or government sector.

There will be child care while in this program in each neighborhood where Workfare is. Also, while in Troup Workfare recipients will learn financial planning, which will keep many out of predatory loans such as title pawns and payday lending. Additionally, there will be other life skills training required, but attendance will equal work time.

In the spirit of full disclosure, there are some working but to protect their government payments are being “paid under the table.” This will stop with this program.

Jobs will include working in the childcare centers after passing background checks and some training. Further, I have been impressed by the skills some of the recipients have but due to various factors are suddenly on the outside looking in.

Since we don’t want to become another agency with their own staffs, I see most of such tasks being performed by such recipients. Transportation, GED teachers, “volunteers” — we pay them — to some of our very worthwhile nongovernment organizations (NGOs), working on farms, fixing up poverty houses and doing in-home care are but a few of the real jobs with dignity that will keep the estimated 8,500 recipients gainfully employed.

You may be saying such a program will never be accepted by the federal and state agencies administering the present programs. To answer this, let me tell you about a trip that Gov. Roy Barnes’ director of health policy and I made to Baltimore, Maryland, where the Centers of Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) is located. We went to get a demonstration project for Medicaid.

A lasting impression which serves as one of several key motivations for me to undertake this is that most of the 21 managers of these programs that we met with realized there are some huge deficiencies with what we do now. Therefore, if you bring them a well-researched option that has evidence that the recipients will be helped, that someone isn’t trying to add to their bottom line, costs are at least neutral with what is spent today and offers sound accountability, there is a good chance the demonstration project will be approved. We can do that!

In regard to research, this is where I need you. Initially we need a group to document what federal and state programs are presently here, the number of recipients in Troup County and how much they receive.

Another group needs to fully develop what NGOs are involved with the recipients today since we do not want to compete with them but take advantage of what they offer. In some cases they will become the employers of our clients or as mentioned above we will send them “volunteers.” Yet another group would research where demonstration projects have worked.

If you are willing to meet at least once to more fully discuss this, send me an email to jeffwarnerbrown@gmail.com. I envision most of this research being done on the Internet and phone, so very few meetings — work at home and at times you choose.

This is a huge undertaking, but for the sake of many of our recipients and their families, and to break the chain of generational poverty, it is something we need to try. Will you join me?

Jeff Brown is a retired Georgia state representative where he served as chairman of the House Health Appropriations Committee.