MAYVILLE - U.S. Rep. Tom Reed, R-Corning, held a social welfare roundtable Tuesday to meet with area public officials and community stakeholders for a discussion of anti-poverty and social welfare programs.
The roundtable was part of Reed's initiative to make welfare reform a larger part of the national conversation. Reed heard from community stakeholders about how the federal programs they administer are working and how the programs can be better coordinated to serve low-income populations.
"I wanted to do this to get together a group of people from the front lines that deal with this on a day to day basis," Reed said. "The input that I was looking for in this was to find out what works and what doesn't, and also how we define success. That's something that we chase in Washington. We want to make sure precious taxpayer dollars are used in the most effective and efficient manner to get people back to work and on their own feet."
In addition to Reed, the meeting was also attended by Max Martin, Eastside YMCA branch manager; Katie Geise, Workforce Investment Board; Tory Irgang, United Way of Southern Chautauqua County; Vince Horrigan, Chautauqua County legislator; Roberta Keller, Chautauqua Opportunities; Leanna Luke-Conley, The Resource Center; Kathryn Muller, Steuben County Department of Social Services; Lisa Baker, Steuben County Department of Social Services, Andy Goodell, state assemblyman; Sue Colwell, St. Susan Center; and Marge Basile-Johnson, Department of Social Services.
The federal government operates more than 80 welfare programs with little coordination among programs. These programs will cost taxpayers $590 billion this year and are expected to grow 6.2 percent annually through the next decade. Reed is looking to coordinate services, make the welfare system more accountable, and help more individuals and families move from dependency to self-sufficiency. One of the items that Reed discussed specifically with the attendees was the PATH Act, a recent piece of legislation that, if passed, will ensure that policy initiatives at the state and federal levels are consistent with each other.
"What we should send is a consistent policy at the federal and state level that if you go to work and you're pulling yourself out of poverty, you should be rewarded for that," Reed said.
Horrigan expressed the need to create incentives for businesses willing to take on those citizens that take part in programs like Welfare To Work. He also noted that it would be helpful if businesses were willing to provide job coaching for at-risk employees to help break the poverty cycle.
"If you're an employer willing to take some of these folks, then maybe you can dedicate some of your resources to mentoring and job coaching some of these people so that they can be retained," Horrigan said. "We can't look at a single organization for this, though, we all need to be in this. To move this population to become self-sufficient, it's going to take the whole group to do it."
Martin, however, felt that the need to educate begins at a much younger age. Through programs held at the Eastside YMCA, where Martin is branch manager, he's seen first-hand the impact that it can have when children are reached at a young age and taught the value of work, responsibility and money.
"If you get to be with them on a daily basis and get to know their families, you can see the need for them to be educated about what the value of money is," Martin said. "The schools sometimes work on that, but we need to be doing this on a daily basis. You have to teach them how to work for money. If you don't, they get stuck in poverty. Then, when they get to be an adult, they assume that someone else is going to provide for them. That's something that you see on a daily basis, and we need to break that cycle."
Following the roundtable discussion, Keller noted that she was very encouraged that the (Reed) cares enough to come back to this region and listen to the people that are doing the work. She was also hopeful that Reed and Goodell would be able to work together from both the federal and state levels to ensure that changes are made in the future.
"I'm encouraged by these hardworking people that want to see better results," Keller said.