Republican legislators will propose a major overhaul of the state’s welfare system next year, requiring people who are able to work to sign contracts that will move them off public assistance.
“We want to change dependence into opportunity,” said state Sen. John Moyer of Spokane.
But a welfare-rights activist said the GOP’s “POWER Plan” fails to address the real causes of poverty.
“The job market itself is a problem,” said Morton Alexander of the Fair Budget Action Campaign. “Will a low-paying job get you to self-sufficiency?”
Moyer and Rep. Suzette Cook, R-Kent, presented the proposal to a group at the Spokane Area Chamber of Commerce and to The Spokesman-Review editorial board Monday.
The key factor for getting people off welfare is giving them a connection to the labor force and an attitude toward work, Cook said.
She believes jobs are available to get people off welfare.
“We constantly get excuses” that a job doesn’t pay enough or isn’t exactly what a person is seeking, she said. Welfare recipients may have to move to another city to take a job that’s available.
“To look at phasing out welfare is to look at getting rid of those excuses,” Cook said.
All able-bodied welfare recipients would be required to sign contracts that spell out the education they will seek and the steps they will take to find a job.
The new system would take advantage of existing job-training programs, apprenticeships and vocational education, Moyer said. Welfare recipients would be required to complete high school.
The plan, called Phase Out Welfare and Empower Respect (POWER), places a two-year limit on receiving full benefits. Families that have new children while on welfare would not receive more money, although they would receive extra food stamps and medical assistance.
Unwed teenage mothers would not receive welfare payments unless they lived with parents or in another place with adult supervision. The income of the entire household would determine whether the mother is eligible for welfare.
Alexander said the Republican plan punishes children by denying benefits for babies born to people on welfare. It also ignores the fact that some people with jobs still fall below the poverty level.
“Welfare is not an evil,” Alexander said. “It’s support for people cast off by the economic system.”