By Michelle Witte
Utah received a failing grade on welfare reform, according to a recent report card.
The Cato Institute, a research foundation based out of Washington D.C., released a study yesterday on the different welfare reform policies implemented by states during the last six years.
The report docked points from Utah for not reducing poverty and teen pregnancy. Utah was also docked because it lacked a family cap policy, which tries to deter families already on welfare from having more children. Twenty-one states currently have a family cap policy, according to the report.
However, officials at the Department of Workforce Services, the government agency in charge of welfare in Utah, disagreed with the results.
“We are generally looked on as a leader in welfare reform, so we were quite shocked to see this report,” said Curt Stewart, spokesman for the department.
Stewart said that the failing grade is a result of the criteria used for the study.
“We are more flexible and less punitive than the grading scale they had in mind,” Stewart said. “We likened it to being graded from a curriculum that we”ve never taken and a class that we”ve never enrolled in.”
Grading procedures, like the one used by the Cato Institute, are generally arbitrary said Michael Seipel, professor of social work at BYU. He said Utah has done a good job in the past, but there is room for improvement in the current system.
“Instead of focusing on welfare, we should focus on poverty,” Seipel said. “How can we get people to earn more income?”
The Department of Workforce Services concerns itself with preparing people for employment by providing job training, vocational education training, ESL training and life skills training, Stewart said. This training helps welfare recipients be more competitive in their job searches and obtain better jobs.
“We want to make sure that the jobs and the training that we provide are long term jobs,” Stewart said. “Jobs of the future and jobs that pay a living wage.”
In contrast to the negative report given by the Institute, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services awarded Utah a $3.5 million high-performance bonus last Thursday for the fifth year in a row. Utah”s welfare program was noted to move people off of welfare into long-term jobs.
One of the goals of the Cato Institute study is to eliminate the welfare system by reducing poverty, but Stewart said the goal doesn”t accurately address the issues faced by welfare families.
“It is never the intent of the welfare reform … to reduce poverty,” Stewart said. “The intent is to stabilize families and that”s what we do.”
The Utah Department of Workforce Services is helping welfare families through the many in-house services. All of the services were combined into one location so that people could receive all of the help needed for success.
“Utah”s idea is a more holistic approach, by treating the whole symptom, [we] treat the whole family,” Stewart said.
The recent efforts succeeded in eliminating people from the welfare rolls, many of them were forced into low-paying jobs and were unprepared for the demands of the work force, Seipel said.
These people often returned to welfare because they couldn”t support their families with the minimum wage jobs they found, he said.
“It is a mixed batch,” Seipel said. “We have done a good job. We are making efforts to get people to become more self-sufficient. But at the same time, we have not done all that we can to get people into well-paying jobs.”