Pubdate: Wed, 16 May 2001
Source: Age Dispatch, The (CN ON)
Copyright: 2001 The Age Dispatch
Address: 8 Front St. E., Strathroy, Ontario, Canada N7G 1Y4

Is it a new war on welfare recipients or a new effort to help prepare them 
to re-enter the workforce? That's the debate surrounding last week's 
announcement by the provincial government of new standards for those 
seeking welfare assistance.

The Mike Harris Government will now force welfare recipients to undergo 
drug screening and basic literacy testing. Those who fail will be required 
to get treatment for drug addictions or go to classes to improve language 
and math skills to prepare them for future jobs. Anyone who refuses will be 
denied assistance.

The government says this is a way to help people get back into the 
workforce. It's a "hand up, not a hand out", as community and social 
services minister John Baird put it. Certainly it is common sense that 
basic speaking, writing, and math abilities would be important in seeking 
jobs, and that's a perception acknowledged by employers and advocates for 
the poor alike.

But critics say people on welfare also know it, and that those who know 
they need help are already trying to get it themselves, but are being 
thwarted by long waiting lists in existing literacy programs.

They also say placing such restrictions on welfare help is an invasion of 
privacy and is discriminatory. And some go so far as to suggest it's just 
another way for the Tories to cut the number of people getting assistance 
in order to both save money and extoll the virtues of their program.

The discrimination and human rights argument is an interesting one, 
balanced as it is on the other side by the fact that it is public money, 
raised through the taxation of everyone else in the province, that welfare 
recipients are receiving. Many who contribute those taxes feel there should 
indeed be a certain level of accountability among those who receive help 
from the state.

But there are also other implications flowing from the province's move. 
There's the $10 million a year it will have to kick in for addiction 
treatment. There's the extra costs that will be incurred in educating those 
who need remedial help.  And who's going to enforce these standards? 
Presumably, it will be those who provide the service - namely cities and 
counties. But other new regulations are already putting pressure on these 

Middlesex County, for instance, is in the process of cutting its welfare 
staff in order to adhere to new provincial guidelines. A staff of 7.5 
fulltime positions is being chopped by three to adhere to new 
worker-to-caseload guidelines. Will new literacy and drug enforcement 
requirements increase the responsibilities and time commitment for a 
smaller staff? Will it require extra administrative costs, half of which 
are borne by the cities and counties that deliver welfare service? In 
short, plenty of questions remain to be answered.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Beth