Oregon just became another example of how excessive hand-outs are hurting needy families. A recent audit released by the Oregon Secretary of State’s Office found the state made “little to no progress” in moving clients off welfare and towards self-sufficiency. The 2011 Legislature made the decision to cut funding for programs that helped parents move towards work and job training. This led case managers to have twice as many clients and very little time to help them.
Although Oregon officials are quick to blame a slow recovery from the recession, the state’s own recovery is significantly slower than the nation’s. In order to expand Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and offer a lower threshold to receive checks, Oregon decided to cut the programs that would actually help people out of poverty. Oregon TANF clients now rank among the worst in finding and retaining jobs. The handouts were not enough to help the needy families and with the cuts to work-related support programs, clients had few options. The legislature’s actions actually forced organizations that promoted self-sufficiency to close—a clear step in the wrong direction.
Oregon’s blunder shows why we must promote work-related support for the needy. States across the country are using One-Stop Career Centers to reduce unemployment and welfare dependency. These centers offer programs on how to gain computer skills (using Excel, LinkedIn, etc.), draft an effective resume, and prepare for interviews. Many also offer extensive job search tools and ways to purchase or borrow work-appropriate clothing. Programs like this get people back into the workforce. It gives the unemployed the skills they need to find and keep a job, something monthly checks are unable to do. Most importantly, getting people back into the work force will reduce unemployment and welfare costs for the state.
Some of the most effective programs include non-profits that establish themselves in underserved communities. Connections to Success has set up offices throughout Kansas City and St. Louis that cater to the specific needs of those in the community. They understand what their clients need and work with them to become self-sufficient—exactly what Oregon is working against. The organization works to break the cycle of poverty rather than perpetuate it. Its clients tout exceptional success stories that could have never been reached with a monthly check and no personal support.
The audit on Oregon’s TANF program actually recommends that the state starts working with non-profits (like Connections to Success) to begin fixing their problem. The state’s extension and expansion of handouts has severely hurt those it was meant to help. Instead, Oregon must start following the lead of other states and begin prioritizing work-related support over cash assistance. By doing so, the state will be able to see long-term, permanent success.