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LIKE THE OTHER CANDIDATES IN THE GOVERNOR'S race, Mike Freeman supports the state's welfare reform laws requiring recipients to go to work.
Freeman: I believe an overwhelming majority of people on public assistance today want to get off public assistance.Under welfare rules adopted by the State Legislature in 1997, recipients can receive up to five years of benefits during their entire lifetime. The first cut-offs will occur during the next governor's watch in the year 2002. That's why candidates like Mike Freeman hold a keen interest in the subject, even if it's not a priority for voters. Recent polls indicate that taxes and education rank as top concerns.
Freeman says his administration would do more to help welfare recipients get the training they need in order to find a good job.
Freeman: Many of these people need help in becoming job ready. They need help in learning job skills in terms of establishing a whole mindset and direction of going to work on a regular basis.Freeman says welfare reform is inextricably linked to some of his education proposals. After all, he says, education and training are what will lead people into the marketplace.
Freeman: First off, making sure all of our high school graduates are job ready, and my program to provide for post high school training - vocational or college - with state assistance will help make sure those people are ready for those jobs.He's also proposing a wage subsidy for employers who hire welfare recipients:
Freeman: With a wage subsidy program you can take a person who's out of work, give them four to six weeks of job training, give their wage subsidy component, have them show up in a business saying, "Hire me, and here's the subsidy you get," and you could have those people back to work immediately. We have a number of programs that are aiding the hard-to-employ to get back to work. I think the wage subsidy would be a good addition to that.Freeman says so far the reform program has been successful at getting people into jobs during the few months since the new rules kicked in. But, he says, it's due, in large part, to a strong economy. Critics don't paint as rosy a picture. They say few welfare recipients have moved into full-time jobs that pay a livable wage. And many of the jobs, they say, are entry level and provide little training for workers to advance to a better one.
Although Freeman remains optimistic about the future - when recipients begin bumping up against their five-year deadlines - he concedes that government will always have to offer assistance to some people.
Freeman: Frankly, I think this country needs to recognize that some people simply aren't able to work. They either have mental incapacities or physical ones that simply don't enable them to work, and I think we need to recognize that. There's other people that, because of the five-year requirement, we're helping encourage them to get back to work, and I anticipate that most, not all, but most of the people who are potentially employable will be back in the marketplace by the time the five-year cap runs out.Freeman says creating more affordable child care will be key to continuing to implement reforms - especially for single mothers. According to a new study issued by the census bureau this week, single mothers are eight times as likely as two-parent households to live in poverty longer.
Other barriers to getting off of welfare, he says, include a lack of health care and inaccessible transportation - issues Freeman says his administration will address, but he doesn't put a price tag on it.