Welfare ‘Reform’

Remember ‘Welfare Reform’? The Municipal Research and Services Center of Washington describes it like this:

On August 22, 1996, President Clinton signed into law the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, Public Law 104-193, better known as the Welfare Reform Bill. This law changes how governmental financial assistance is administered including: changing federal funding to states from an open-ended entitlement to a series of capped block grant allocations; sets time limits on entitlements and cash assistance to welfare recipients; requires most welfare recipients to engage in job activities (this includes work experience, community service, job training, vocational education); changes the disability definitions for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for children who apply; mandates states to establish methods to enforce collection of unpaid parental child support; denies many legal immigrants from collecting SSI and food stamps; consolidates all child care programs into the Child Care and Development Block Grant, and changes foodstamp recertification requirements.

In other words, many recipients of Department of Social Services programs must find paid employment in order to continue receiving said services. And of course, many of these program participants are single women raising young children on their own.

When a person is forced by the government to take a job – any job, no matter the salary – certain industries or business sectors are the fat-cat, happy, inevitable winners.

Take a fast food restaurant, for example. As the proprietor, you are pretty much guaranteed a steady stream of workers who will accept minimum wage, fewer than necessary hours, potentially demeaning treatment and an absolutely nil chance of advancement. Because they have to. As a DSS recipient with no choice and no power regarding your employment, your job hours will most likely be irregular and inconvenient. It will be tough to find childcare on weekend evenings and holidays. You will be scheduled for six hours and sent home after 4 1/2 if the business is light.

But no one, even a minimum wage earning DSS client, needs to accept illegal treatment. When you are hurt on a job, Workers’ Compensation, a type of insurance that an employer pays, must cover your medical bills and a salary for any time that you will be out of work recovering from your injury. Having Medicaid coverage does not mean that Medicaid should pick up your bills for an injury sustained on the job. And if your boss fires you for filing a Workers’ Comp claim? That is unfair retaliation, an illegal activity on the part of your boss. That is a case for the Department of Labor.

I recently visited the Center Ithaca Department of Labor One Stop to ask a few questions. The folks who work there are genuinely kind and caring people. The man helping me said ‘Remember to send people here on their day off when they have these kinds of problems. We can help them get better jobs. There are some out there.’

We all have workers’ rights. Earning minimum wage does not mean that you have minimal rights.