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Posted at 2:25 PM ET, 11/20/2010

A needed conversation on welfare in D.C.

By Marion Barry, Washington

Recently, D.C. Council member Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) and I introduced legislation that would — consistent with federal regulations — limit Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) benefits to five years.

My legislation, while imperfect and incomplete, is intended to start a serious dialogue on how to break the cycle of generational poverty, government dependency and economic disparity in the city.

At present, the District is one of only a few jurisdictions in the country that spend local government funds to allow TANF aid to go on indefinitely. Unfortunately, this unsound provision in our local law has been coupled with a system that has failed our residents for years. The result has been to enslave residents in joblessness and dependency on the government rather than lifting them up and giving them an opportunity to achieve self-sufficiency through job training and employment.

That’s one reason the District now has 17,505 families receiving TANF benefits, with over 40 percent receiving benefits for more than five years. We must do better.

As a council member representing a highly underserved and overlooked population in Ward 8, I am very well aware that families that receive these benefits for more than five years frequently face the most severe barriers to employment and independence. Many of them cope with the added burdens of domestic violence, substance abuse and mental and physical disability.

It is wrong to suggest, as some have, that I would be so callous as to advocate the immediate removal of thousands of TANF recipients; to do so only spreads fear among recipients instead of advancing a solution. But I am firmly committed to a five-year limitation, with exemptions for those who face severe barriers to employment — as long as it is part of a full-scale program redesign.

For real transformation to take place, the mayor and the D.C. Council must rapidly change our system to include participation from every city agency, as well as the private sector, and employ their collective expertise and resources to help beneficiaries change their lives.

To begin, we can act immediately to improve the delivery of job training services to 10,600 families deemed “ready to work.” Our six existing job training vendors receive a bonus for work placement and retention, but they provide services to only 6,900 families. Consequently, thousands of families face one- to two-year waiting periods for training.

Rather than terminating these contracts because they have not met the recipients’ needs, the Department of Human Services has allowed the contracts to continue. Why would the Fenty administration make sanctions for noncompliance by individuals receiving benefits a priority instead of increasing the capacity of job training and education programs administered by these contractors? It is only now, years after the problems became apparent, that DHS has a plan to prepare new requirements and solicit new vendors.

The irony of all of this is that the great majority of TANF recipients want better opportunities. Unfortunately, in our city, we have elected officials, members of the media, advocates and residents who seem to prefer to keep TANF recipients enslaved, without jobs and without hope.

We don’t have to accept that. We can get the entire community involved to identify ways to make our TANF program more effective and better at serving aid recipients. The people who need the most help are not receiving it. They are the most vulnerable in our society, and we are failing them.

I am confident that Mayor-elect Vincent Gray thoroughly understands this problem and the massive overhaul that is needed. With his experience and knowledge of social services, I am optimistic that he will be the type of leader who will diligently work to implement the policies to break the cycle for this generation of recipients.

The writer, a Democrat, represents Ward 8 on the D.C. Council.

By Marion Barry, Washington  | November 20, 2010; 2:25 PM ET
Categories:  D.C., D.C. politics, Fenty, Marion Barry, Vincent Gray, economy  
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Comments

I view this recent chain of events as a breath of fresh air. I don't care who introduces it or who sponsor's it, just get it done. Mistakes have admittedly been made so let's just correct them and get this thing right. Several generation's have been stained by the perpetuation of this mentality, society has the responsibility of helping these folk, especially the children, ignorance is not an excuse now.

Posted by: barrycarey123 | November 20, 2010 7:55 PM | Report abuse

Good new, Marion.... the military doesn't have a two year backlog on training. You can sign up and they take you right away.

In difficult times the military has always been a lifeline for countless Americans needing a job and direction in life.

Or is military service beneath DC residents currently living off the taxes and hard work of others?

Beyond that, I guarantee you I could, with no training, get a job as a busboy or greeter in a restaurant. And the DC restauarant world is BEGGING for decent workers. And that could lead to a waiter position, with good money.

Ditto on the construction trade. You can show up with no skills and no education but if you show a willingness to work they will train you. And the pay can be quite good.

But I do applaud you for recognizing the corrosive and counter-productive effects of unlimited welfare.

However, your 'exceptions' to the five year limit you cite do give me pause. Welfare recipients are very good at gaming the system. Providing 'exceptions' allows them to continue gaming.

Posted by: TheHillman | November 21, 2010 5:47 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Barry, the one government official who most welfare recipients in DC respect is you. You showered them with benefits during your mayoralty and they think you walk on water. You have the best chance of changing their culture of anyone alive. Meet with them, talk with them, listen to them, talk them off the welfare roles. (and work to change the policy as well of course)

Posted by: plugugly7 | November 22, 2010 7:59 AM | Report abuse

It's time DC residents.... You need to WORK! The first step is to get young women to stop having babies at a young age... and if they do instead of putting them on welfare make them get work to help themselves and/or job training to work, help them get a job.... You should want to upgrade your life and STOP sitting around waiting for a check. Take pride. I bet if you have to get out here and work having more children would be out of the question goes for the men as well. By the way I am a black american and want to see my people do better

Posted by: moreamericanthanyou | November 22, 2010 10:26 AM | Report abuse

It's time DC residents.... You need to WORK! The first step is to get young women to stop having babies at a young age... and if they do instead of putting them on welfare make them get work to help themselves and/or job training to work, help them get a job.... You should want to upgrade your life and STOP sitting around waiting for a check. Take pride. I bet if you have to get out here and work having more children would be out of the question goes for the men as well. By the way I am a black american and want to see my people do better

Posted by: moreamericanthanyou | November 22, 2010 10:27 AM | Report abuse

I am soooo happy to hear Marion Barry agreeing with the welfare limitations! He has been a longtime supporter of those that live on the welfare system and if anyone can get them to see a different side of things, he can do it. As a black woman who has never been on welfare, I work very hard everyday to dispel myths about being a young, unwed mother while also being my child's best role model, but it began with my mentality. Damn the excuses, I got up, got out and got better with every step I took, and I never once sat back and waited on someone to give me something. The world doesn't work that way! So if I work for mine, and teach my child to work for hers, I cannot justify ANYBODY waiting for a handout. I sympathize with certain situations (mental illness, physical disability, etc) but even that is limited because those ailments do not mean you cannot contribute. Thank you Marion and I truly hope, with help from the new Mayor, to see your thoughts come to fruition and my native city become a positive, thriving city!

Give people a fish and they will eat for a day and happily wait for the next meal to be served. Teach people to fish and they'll eat and feed others for a lifetime!

Posted by: dcdivacb | November 22, 2010 1:59 PM | Report abuse

Perhaps Mr. Barry, in his golden years, is turning over a new leaf. Then again, having witnessed Mr. Barry in public office since the 1980’s I have to wonder what he is really up to. This “needed conversation” is 180 degrees out from the Marion Barry of the last 30 plus years.

For over 30 years, while mayor and as a city council member, Mr. Barry enabled the deviant culture that is found in a large portion of the DC population today. Rather than embracing a culture of accountability for ones self, he put forth the message that it was “everyone else’s fault” and not that of the population that was becoming even more dependent on welfare and other peoples dollars and not on self reliance or accountable behavior. The people who Mr. Barry needs to be telling this too aren’t reading this article because they can’t read it. I doubt many of them could even understand the points that Mr. Barry makes.

36% of DC residents are functionally illiterate (3rd grade education or less). That is about 177,000 people. Another 26% (about 126,000) have between a 4th and 8th grade education. Less than 50% of high school students graduate and 20% of these are illiterate. Only about 10,000 DC residents took advantage of adult literacy education and only about 600 earned GEDs in 2008. You can’t provide job training to someone who is illiterate and who has the lack of social skills, reasoning ability and responsibility that comes with being illiterate.

Mr. Barry, do you want to break this endless cycle of enslavement? YOU have the credibility. Demand that illiterate teenage girls don’t have multiple children out of wedlock and don’t continue to treat them special and reward them for having babies. Demand compulsory birth control as a condition of TANF, section 8 housing and all the other “services” that are paid for by someone else. Demand that they understand that social services are paid for by other people and are a privilege that can be taken away. Demand kids stay in school and earn a real education. Demand competent teachers and demand those who are who are just collecting a paycheck are fired regardless of race and then help the teachers who care by demanding parental accountability. Demand that anyone accepting any “free” benefit that is illiterate attend AND perform in adult literacy classes. Demand that the people who actually get job training are held accountable for satisfactorily completing the training and the ramifications if they don’t.

Most of DC’s welfare problems were created when you were the mayor. YOU now have the credibility Mr. Barry. Do you really care? Or is this just one more attempt to show how much power you have to everyone and (just perhaps) get more city money to the contractors (friends of yours) who are doing the job training? Do you really care about having a positive legacy on this city? Then make this happen. Now.

Posted by: highexpectations | November 22, 2010 2:33 PM | Report abuse

Oh, this is rich.

We are in this mess, in large part, because Marion Barry used the DC schools system as his jobs/patronage machine for years. The result? Utter incompetence from the classroom to the central office and thousands of children failed by their adults, including Barry. For decades, DCPS has been turning out graduates who cannot even perform CVS-level work. The are simply not employable.

A crying shame.

Posted by: trace1 | November 22, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

About the only sure thing I take from this proposal is that Barry will not be running for re-election when his current term is up. Why else would he be so totally willing to diss his base?

Posted by: eomcmars | November 22, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

What a joke. Marion Barry, like the MAJORITY of the Congressional Black Caucus members, has done everything he can to keep as much, and as large, a portion of his constituents relying on public assistance so that they will vote him back into office again, and again again. Something is amiss here....Barry is still Barry.

Posted by: ReneesOpinion | November 22, 2010 2:54 PM | Report abuse

Those of you who are saying that Mr. Marion has turned a new leaf must not remember when he made national news for berating a woman who was the mother of 8 children and was receiving welfare. The woman publicly challenged the mayor by saying that he wasn't responding to the needs of poor constituents. Further, she said that she was on welfare and had 8 children and the mayor couldn't find her a place to live. Then, Mayor Barry, said something like, "Well, maybe if you had stopped having babies, you wouldn't be in this predicament!" It made the national news, there was a public outcry, and charities came to the woman's aid and she got a renovated huge home in DC. No one remembers that!? It was a long, long time ago.

Posted by: why6 | November 22, 2010 3:13 PM | Report abuse

Those of you who are saying that Mr. Marion has turned a new leaf must not remember when he made national news for berating a woman who was the mother of 8 children and was receiving welfare. The woman publicly challenged the mayor by saying that he wasn't responding to the needs of poor constituents. Further, she said that she was on welfare and had 8 children and the mayor couldn't find her a place to live. Then, Mayor Barry, said something like, "Well, maybe if you had stopped having babies, you wouldn't be in this predicament!" It made the national news, there was a public outcry, and charities came to the woman's aid and she got a renovated huge home in DC. No one remembers that!? It was a long, long time ago.

Posted by: why6 | November 22, 2010 3:13 PM | Report abuse

How can any inner city democrat speak credibly about the cycle of poverty and government dependence when it is the democratic party that hangs welfare over the head of poor black folk in order to control and win elections. Poor black folk are slaves to the democrats and until that cycle of dependence changes, nothing will. Also, the editorial assumes that the only thing lacking in Wards 7 and 8 are trained employees. There is something more fundamental missing in the hearts and minds of the chronically unemployed black folk in this town. It is best illustrated by the article about the new House of Pancakes in Columbia Heights. Despite their poor lot in life, the black applicants displayed a shocking laziness and inattentiveness. You can't train away laziness. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2010/11/19/AR2010111902706.html

Posted by: Matt14 | November 22, 2010 4:35 PM | Report abuse

why6... the woman had 14 children and they lived up the street from me. She was a perfect example of why some women should not have children. When DPS came to get them. They would put two in the tranport car and three would jump out. It took three hours to round those kids up. They were being put out for not paying 200.00 dollars a month rent. I live on U street so paying that little for these huge beautiful houses and still wasting the money is shameful. BTW Marion was the one who secured the house for them.

Posted by: msdooby1 | November 22, 2010 9:52 PM | Report abuse

I don't care who authored this proposal do it and stop criticizing who wrote it! Not only are we acting like haters we are not promoting progress every other ethnicity can see eye to eye about something but it appears that we can't on a single item or issue and if you want to dissect what I said it's in our history books tons and tons of us selling our own out! We definitely need an overhaul on the 'Welfare System" ASAP!!

Posted by: brendaisapoet | November 23, 2010 11:56 PM | Report abuse

Until there are actually jobs for everyone, it is unfair to kick people off of TANF after five years. Also, it's a program for families, likely single parent with a dead beat parent. So, this means the kids are likely still in grade school and need mom there for them.

I find it contradictory that the Republicans, who are generally the ones that want to cut these programs, say they are pro-life. But, they never care about the kids after they are born.

Family planning would avoid it all. That means if the state doesn't want to pay for kids after their born, they should be for abortion.

Posted by: moderate123 | November 23, 2010 11:57 PM | Report abuse

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