Dem Radio Address: Haskell says, “We can’t just see poverty as someone else’s problem; we all have a stake in the success or failure of our neighbors.”
Nobody hates relying on public assistance more than the very people whose circumstances have left them with no other options. People who are at the end of their rope; people with no other options for where they are going to sleep or how they are going to feed their kids. It is they who know that without a hand up, they would be cold and hungry. For most, it is their option of last resort.
Good Morning, this is State Senator Anne Haskell of Portland.
Nowadays with this 24-hour news cycle and the neverending campaign season, it’s hard to have meaningful conversation beyond black or white soundbites, ideas that are either Democratic or Republican, and characters who are heroes or villains.
The truth is, life is seldom that simple. And, certainly when we talk about the issues of poverty–and the hows and whys of people who are in poverty and what to do about it, it’s sure to evoke strong opinions.
As a member of the Health and Human Services Committee, we are spending a lot of time talking about how to lift people out of poverty and the appropriate role of the state in assisting families and individuals in this circumstance.
We all agree that the best remedy to poverty is a job. But again, in real life–it’s probably not that simple.
For example, in reality, more than 97 percent of the people who receive TANF or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families are women. Many of these women are seeking safety from abuse and a new beginning with their children.
Also the average woman on TANF has two children and receives only $485 per month–hardly enough to get by. Hardly a way of life that anyone would choose–and hardly an incentive to stay out of work or remain homeless.
Next, there’s the “welfare cliff”–that’s when a recipient abruptly loses public assistance because they’ve received a small bump in income. Losing benefits so abruptly and completely can mean that those will go over the cliff and can find themselves with fewer financial resources than they had before they started working and earning money.
Accepting a raise, or working more hours, or securing a better job shouldn’t be a setback from getting back on their feet. That’s just common sense. To let folks fall off the welfare cliff is simply punitive and counterproductive.
My colleague on the Health and Human Services committee, State Rep. Drew Gattine of Westbrook has one solution to help with that. His bill would help ratchet down public assistance rather than yanking the rug out from under them once they get a job. Again, life is not so simple as: if you don’t have a job, you need assistance; and when you do have a job, you don’t need assistance.
By allowing TANF recipients to make more money for the first two months of a new job, and by assisting with childcare and transportation, and by creating pathways to more gainful employment through job training, we are positioning folks on a path to go forward–one that can move people out of the cycle of poverty and attain success and independence.
So again, let’s think…what is the goal? It’s to get people back to work and out of poverty. Certainly, it’s not to be punitive and judgmental.
As Pope Francis recently said, “The measure of the greatness of a society is found in the way it treats those most in need, those who have nothing apart from their poverty.”
I hope each of us, whether in elected office or not, will not just see poverty as someone else’s problem but understand that we all have a stake in the success or failure of our neighbors.
Thank you for listening. This is State Senator Anne Haskell of Portland. Have a great weekend.