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Helping Adrift Students

March 27, 2014

The Fixes Section of the NYTimes editorial page offers creative solutions to thorny social issues. Today’s article “For Striving Students a Connection to Money”, describes SingleStop, a program that aggregates all of the government services that are available to people living in poverty. This program is designed to make these folks aware of the $65,000,000,000 in unclaimed benefits available to support them if they are seeking to improve themselves through education and training programs. To reach out to people who might qualify for this help, Single Stop is working collaboratively with community colleges, which enroll many students who meet the low income requirements for these jobs.

I believe that reaching out to students in community colleges is waiting too long. HS Guidance counselors spend much (if not MOST) of their time working with college bound students, and pay little attention to the 40-50% of HS graduates who are NOT going to college and NOT in danger of failing to graduate. These are the Adrift students, unsure of what they will do once they graduate, eager to leave home and be independent, and completely clueless as to how to make this happen. An organization like Single Stop could explain to these kids that there are ways they could access government services to help them with that transition and that using these resources is no different than their classmates availing themselves of government subsidized scholarships. For better or worse, and I think it’s for worse, students have gotten the message that seeking government help is a sign of weakness… unless of course you are enrolling in the armed forces (a government “hand out”) or getting s government subsidized loan to enroll in college. As the article states:

(The fact that $65,000,000,000 designed to provide assistance is unspent) should enrage us. It’s better for all of us if children can eat nutritious food, if people can graduate instead of dropping out, if families can live in stable housing instead of shelters and get preventive health care instead of waiting for a problem to require the emergency room. And not just in the my-brother’s-keeper sense; it’s better for our wallets as well. Helping people to live up to their potential is an excellent investment.

It DOES anger me that this money is not being accessed… but what is especially enraging is the reasons outlined in the highlighted section of the next paragraph:

Many people don’t use benefits they qualify for because they don’t know about them. Others don’t want to deal with a sign-up process that seems deliberately designed to discourage use: requiring multiple visits to multiple offices dealing with multiple forms of disrespect, with kids in tow and no money for gas or a MetroCard. Many try to sign up but fail, and then give up.

This just in: the sign up process IS deliberately designed to discourage use in the same way the new requirement for a photo ID discourages voting. Complex enrollment procedures are not a bug: they are a feature. The thinking seems to be if we make it difficult enough to sign up for benefits we can make it difficult for people to use the money we’ve set aside and we can then claim the money wasn’t needed at all. We need to make it as easy to get welfare benefits as it is to get an AK-47 or a handgun.

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