Stephen E. Auslander, Editor Michael E. Pulitzer, Publisher
James M Kiser, Editorial Page Editor
April 10, 1997
Getting Real on welfare
The state Department of Economic Security - recognizing ``strong welfare reform'' won't work where no jobs exist - acted humanely this spring when it requested waivers on new food stamp limits for 11 of Arizona's 15 counties
Now the Legislature needs to add such realism to its welfare reform.
To date, legislators have indulged mainly in fantasies about the world of work and the ability of many aid recipients to land jobs.
Despite unemployment surpassing 30 percent in Yuma County and 20 percent in Santa Cruz County, Republican leaders have steadfastly refused to adapt their unrealistic and inflexible work requirements and aid cut-offs to local conditions.
A grossly inadequate training program tragically weakens the state package. And when Democrats like Rep. Paul Newman of Bisbee propose adjustments for regions lacking a meaningful industrial base, they are told people who live in such places should simply move to the cities where there are jobs.
This has been the consistent, harshly abstract insistence of Sen. Tom Patterson, R-Phoenix, and others, who oppose any adjustment of work requirements anywhere, and for anyone. ``What you're going to do . . . is you're going to incentivize living in areas where there isn't work,'' was how Patterson put it in the Star Sunday. Such is the Legislature's rigid, one-size-fits-all recipe for disaster in rural Arizona, if not elsewhere as well.
Contrast this fixity, however, with DES' pragmatism in adjusting the federal food stamp program as redefined by President Clinton's national welfare reform. Acknowledging the diversity of the state's job markets and the deep malaise that depresses places like Douglas and Ganado, DES has availed itself of federal willingness to postpone food stamp withdrawals in places where recipients need extra help in coping with the new rules.
Consequently, the state has very appropriately asked that Washington give able-bodied food stamp clients in Santa Cruz, Cochise, Yuma and other troubled counties a year to rearrange their lives instead of the three months the law mandates before withholding support.
``In areas of high unemployment . . . you may have every intent to work and simply cannot,'' was the refreshingly real-world observation of DES administrator Moe Gallegos last week, who gleaned exactly the purpose of Washington's exemption rule for areas where the unemployment exceeds the national average by 20 percent. Thus, the state has acted responsibly in recognizing that in some places - maybe most of Arizona - the jobs just don't exist to move people off the dole. The only credible course in such places, DES rightly sees, is to give more time.
The Legislature should emulate that recognition. Lawmakers should look seriously at adjusting their ideas to local reality, providing more training programs to rural areas, and doing at least something to stimulate job-creation in such places. Then Arizona might actually profit from a welfare reform that is both stringent and constructive