If Utah really wants to help more people off welfare, two local advocates for the poor say, Congress has just given it a golden opportunity.
Jeff Fox, executive director of the Crossroads Urban Center, and Joe Duke-Rosati, advocacy director for the Salt Lake Area Community Action Program, said the new federal Family Support Act will help pay for some programs that the state now pays all by itself.They hope the money saved will be used to expand services to help the poor off welfare. But Fox, a former legislator, worries that tight budgets might tempt lawmakers to divert the saved money elsewhere. "We don't want it to go to something like pumping the lake."
Duke-Rosati added, "We - advocates, state Social Services, legislators and others - pretty much agree on the types of things that have to be done to get people off welfare and out of poverty. The trouble has always been a lack of resources. This act should give us the resources to do more."
The pair was in Washington for a seminar on welfare reform and discussions of the new law sponsored by the Center for Law and Social Policy.
An example of benefits the new law may bring is that it will have the federal government pay 75 percent of the cost of day care for people going through job training to get off welfare. Utah now pays 100 percent of the cost.
Fox said the new law could allow the state to provide day care for more people, or to create other programs to get people off welfare - such as giving employers subsidies to hire and train the unemployed.
But he warns that the state could simply continue to fund current levels of services and divert the savings elsewhere.
"We in Utah have really been leaders in welfare reform, if you define that as helping people to get jobs and get off welfare. We hope that continues," Duke-Rosati said.
Fox added: "When I was in the Legislature I saw a heavy commitment to welfare reform. I know it exists and hope it continues."
Paula Roberts, senior staff attorney at the Center for Law and Social Policy, said the federal government likely has done all it will for welfare reform in the foreseeable future by recently passing the Family Support Act, revising the Food Stamp program and changing Medicaid.
So she said states must be creative to attack the problem. "Poverty today is a pervasive problem. One in seven Americans is poor. One in five of our children lives in poverty.
"The average family income among the the lowest fifth of black Americans was $3,837, down almost $1,200 from what it was in 1978. Because it is so pervasive, this poverty will take more than Band-Aids to eradicate."