Welfare recipients talk back on cuts to assistance
On May 19, as Gov. Jim Hunt, Senate President Pro Tem Marc Basnight, and House Speaker Harold Brubaker went to speak to the state's business community, a different sort of group gathered in the legislative press conference room.
The group was a coalition called "Bread, Jobs, and Justice", made up of grassroots groups that work with the poor, women on welfare, advocates and a handful of legislators. The group called on the General Assembly to change its emphasis in the welfare reform debate. Women who currently receive public assistance talked abut the barrier they face in finding a job that pays a decent wage, finding transportation to get to work and finding and day care to take care of their children so they can stay at work.
Speakers called on legislature to repeal the two-year time limit in Work First, the statewide welfare initiative. The arbitrary time limit could throw thousands of people off the public assistance support system in August.
Speakers also demanded the legislators reject many of the county plans that were proposed under last year's welfare reform. The General Assembly will vote this year on which, if any, local plans to approve. Many of the plans contain unconstitutional provisions, many were put together without the required public notice and with virtually no public participation, and many are much more punitive than the already punitive Work First program.
The coalition's press conference represented an all too rare occurrence at the legislative building, voices of people actually affected by state polices having a chance to speak about them. Women on welfare stood behind the podium and described what is was like to look for work that pays a decent wage, to face the discrimination and stereotyping that many politicians have created or at least encouraged.
Those voices need to be heard again this session when welfare reform is debated. They need to be heard in the committee rooms and in the leadership offices and the Governor's mansion. They may not have the clout of the business community or be able to help bankroll a campaign, but they are the people the lawmakers are supposed to be working for.
Right-wing commission continues to meet
The House Study Commission on Federal Education Grants has turned into a regular meeting of the Christian Right in North Carolina. This past week, the committee heard from a speaker who claimed that the DARE anti-drug program in public schools encourages kids to be drug dealers. There are conflicting studies about the program, but there is no evidence yet that the fourth graders in the program leave the classroom and begin dealing crack on the corner.
The comments were the latest in a long line of bizarre comments. The committee's chairman has repeatedly referred to the "socialists" in the state Department of Public Instruction. One legislator said the state's education reform efforts began with a former citizen of the Soviet bloc writing a letter to Hillary Clinton.
It is not clear how long the committee will continue to meet. Apparently House Speaker Harold Brubaker approves of it activities as he allows it to continue.
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