The Minnesota Family Investment Program became effective in July. The pilot project’s primary goal is to provide work incentives that will move the estimated 50,000 welfare recipients in the state out of poverty. County officials said the state’s overall program has been successful, referring to the decreasing number of welfare recipients. But, facing the lack of enough preparation and support necessary for the program, working welfare families are still struggling to become self-sufficient. Despite its promise, the program fails to provide enough support services and assistance for poor families with children, mainly in the form of child care and transportation. Although the program has shown positive results at an early stage, it still needs supplemental programs and policies to work effectively.
A Minnesota Department of Human Services survey during the first three months shows that the percentage of parents on welfare who are working increased from 17 to 24 percent. However, the more parents on welfare start working, the more child-care assistance needs to be provided. Facing substantial rises in the number of working parents on welfare, the local child-care referral agencies in Minneapolis have been receiving more requests than they can handle. Both Hennepin and Ramsey counties increased their child-care budgets and added new workers, but still parents can’t find adequate day-care facilities. To keep working, welfare parents need steady day care.
If parents cannot find child-care facilities in close proximity to where they live, it is then extremely difficult for them to work more than 30 hours and maintain their responsibilities as parents. Many people on welfare simply don’t have a car. If they fail to find work within a specified period of time, they will start to lose their welfare benefits on a graduated basis.
Other kinds of assistance as well as child care have not been provided efficiently. Transportation, for instance, is critical for single parents to commute between their work and child-care center. Moreover, their lack of mobility reduces their chances to work in the suburbs where better jobs can be found than in the city. Also, for the many immigrants on welfare in Minneapolis, the language barrier poses serious problems. Without access to a translator, immigrants do not even know what changes have taken place in the welfare program. To make up for the lack of these kinds of services, some community services, neighborhood organizations and congregations started their own programs.
To make the new welfare program successful, state and county officials need to respond to the immediate needs of child care, transportation and other needs. Delays in providing necessary programs and assistance will reduce the chance for the welfare family not only to be independent financially, but also to fulfill their responsibilities as parents. Now, the welfare families have to work even if they cannot find supplemental programs and services. This lack of support can sometimes prevent the move from welfare to work, and renders the new program self-defeating. The MFIP needs to be consistent in its aggressive push to reduce the welfare numbers, if it wants to be successful as a force for social change.