- The Washington Times - Monday, November 15, 2010

At least two D.C. lawmakers are facing a cold hard fact: The District’s welfare program is breeding a cycle of dependency.

So say Democrats Marion Barry and Yvette Alexander, whose Public Assistance Amendment Act would track the 1996 federal welfare-to-work law by limiting eligibility to 60 months.

The bill got its first hearing on Monday.

Theirs is not a popular legislative proposition, as the federally funded Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) has long been opposed by anti-poverty groups because it imposes a lifetime limit of 60 months and because it offers states flexibility to mandate that recipients get a job, train for a job and/or enroll in a continuing education program.

But the District has been far more lenient, the two lawmakers said.

Instead of helping people move toward self-sufficiency, D.C. welfare policies have created a “generational cycle,” Ms. Alexander told The Washington Times.

“This not a measure to take anyone off the rolls,” she said. “My ultimate goal is to help them. For far too long, public assistance has become a generational cycle. People look to it as a way of life.”

Ms. Alexander said that cycle is particularly harmful to young mothers.

“A lot of teen-age girls have babies and this is the way they start off their new lives,” she said. “Then they find out that the stipend [of $374] is not enough to raise a family.”

The Barry-Alexander bill gets a public hearing Monday amid the council’s consideration of another welfare reform measure. The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Educational Opportunities and Accountability Act would mandate employment components and tougher oversight.

For example, the D.C. measure would realign education opportunities with federal rules that define education as “directly related to employment” and require agencies to collect and report welfare recipients’ job-readiness status and employment data, including salary.

Mr. Barry said because the Fenty administration didn’t institute welfare reform, the city faces a burgeoning program of unchecked spending and has “failed in its mission.”

“[T]he current TANF program, let’s face it, both locally and nationally, has failed to alleviate long-term poverty, allowing individuals to continue on this cycle of reliance and dependency,” he said in a statement.

As for spending, Mr. Barry said there are more than 17,800 welfare recipients but more than 9,000 have already surpassed the 60-month limit.

“Currently, the District extends this five-year time limit to over 7,000 families. There are an additional 2,500 families that have been in the program over eight years. Together, these families represent more than half of the entire caseload,” said Mr. Barry, who represents Ward 8, where joblessness hovers at 30 percent.

The Barry-Alexander measure is now officially before the Committee on Human Services, which controls a third of all D.C. spending. Its chairman, Tommy Wells, is a stalwart when it comes to safety-net bolstering. He fought against budget cuts this spring and is stiffening his spine again as officials begin to trim more than an estimated $200 million from the current budget to close a $175 million gap.

In announcing the public hearing, Mr. Wells reminded anti-poverty advocates that Monday’s hearing is “an opportunity to receive public comment on legislation that may be under consideration for potential budget gap closing recommendations.”

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