Weve argued, debated, discussed, fought, pressured, editorialized, lobbied
and analyzed for more than a decade. Almost everyone has an opinion about
welfare, welfare reform, the welfare state and welfare recipients. Most of
us who hold strong opinions dont actually know much about welfare, and
fewer of us actually know anyone who receives any kind of welfare benefits.
For instance, did you realize the typical Texas welfare parents is a single,
30 year old mother of two? That she has twelve years or less in the
educational system, and receives $188.00 per month in Aid to Families with
Dependent Children (the basic welfare benefit) an annual income of about
$2,250 for a family of three? Most people dont.
Details aside, the time has come for all of us to act. Congress passed and
the President signed welfare reform legislation earlier this fall. The
challenge of addressing the needs of poor people greets us at our front door.
The new law shifts the burden from Washington to Austin and, even closer to
home, to Dallas. The problems associated with povertyand they are manyare now
our problems as never before. Just this week a new study reported
the fact that the United States has more children trapped in poverty than any
other industrialized nation. An article in the SeptemberOctober issue of
the Harvard Business Review (Toward an Apartheid Economy? pages 114ff)
describes the plight of economically sinking workers who work harder,
longer and more hours for steadily declining wages. The problems are real,
complex, frightening and downright difficult.
The time has come for all of us to act, and act together. During the next
2-5 years, thousands of welfare recipients must move from public support into
the crush of the marketplace, and that at a time of unique economic
challenge. Approximately 700,000 Texans rely on the basic welfare benefit,
costing Texas taxpayers around $500 million annually. Finding work will
provide only part of the solution for these special people who present
special needs. Welfare recipients need friends, support and partners.
Last week Texas Comptroller, John Sharp, called a press conference in our
building near downtown Dallas, His purpose was to announce the kick-off of
his Family Pathfinders program and its partnership locally with the Greater
Dallas Community of Churches. Family Pathfinders seeks to link individual
welfare recipients with support groups of 3-6 people drawn from churches,
synagogues, mosques, civic groups, service organizations and businesses.
After receiving simple training, these supporting partners will link up with
a welfare family as friends and allies. The supporting partners will assist
their new friends with child care arrangements, housing questions,
transportation dilemmas, simple listening, parenting skills, job referrals
and networking. These important adopting support groups will not be there
to provide money, but counsel and presence. Family Pathfinders seeks to
build community for the sake of the poor, as well as the entire state.
The partnership, the teamwork, and most of all, the commitment to building
new friendships will be crucial to achieving genuine and lasting welfare
reform. The time has come for all of us to take action. You and your group
can start today. Call John Stoesz at the Community of Churches today
(214-824-8680). Or if you prefer, call John Sharps office (1-800-355-PATH).
Your action will speak louder than anyones words.