News: Welfare Deform

Changing lives doesn't come quickly or cheaply

Jymi Bolden

Anees Fardan (left) and Nashid A. Shakir, who run the Cincinnati Collective Learning Center, say many social problems can be attributed to the stress of welfare recipients losing thier safety net.

Bill Clinton has been out of the Oval Office for about six months, but his legacy continues to affect the everyday lives of welfare recipients. Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act in 1996, which placed a five-year lifetime cap on welfare benefits, with no more than two consecutive years.

The law led to an immediate need to help welfare recipients prepare to leave public assistance, according to Anees Fardán of the Cincinnati Collective Learning Center (CCLC).

"With welfare reform, 'deform,' coming into being in '97, folks were given three years and they had to be off," Fardán says. "It really got real for people."

In 1999, the Hamilton County Department of Human Services, now called the Department of Job and Family Services (DJFS), contracted the CCLC to provide job training for welfare clients. Fardán and Nashid A. Shakir founded CCLC in 1990.

Shakir and Fardán originally came to Cincinnati to start the Afri-centric Adolescent Alcohol and Drug Program at the University of Cincinnati. Although child-based, the program went beyond children's issues to address substance abuse.

"We did not look at the kid as the problem," Fardán says.

"We looked at the family and the community."

Success at the program brought promotions, which Shakir and Fardán say they later regretted accepting. The move up took them out of touch from the kids.

It was a child, however, who changed Shakir and Fardán's view of what to do. When they visited the youth at the Juvenile Detention Center, he told them, "What you guys taught me just made me better at what I was doing."

That's when Shakir and Fardán decided to leave UC. They realized they had taught the kids ways to be successful but hadn't yet given them the opportunities to achieve success.

Six months isn't enough time

One of CCLC's first programs was working with Cincinnati Youth in Co-operation Inc. Teaching business to seven kids newly released from detention, Shakir and Fardán helped launch Scoops Ice Cream Parlor.

With a year of free rent from Swifton Commons shopping center in Bond Hill, Shakir, Fardán and the seven kids built Scoops from the ground up. The kids were involved in every aspect of starting the new business. Not only did they build the inside of the parlor, but they were responsible for everything from product selection to daily operations.

Two of the participants in that venture went on to earn GEDs and attend college.

Shakir says CCLC earned a reputation of being able to "engage people," leading the Department of Human Services to hire the agency to help train welfare recipients.

"It's very hard to change people's lives," says Sarah Gideon, a member of the department's administrative team.

Shakir says faith in the client is essential, something that's often lacking at the DJFS.

"You have to believe in some people before they will believe in themselves," he says. "We live in a system where victims almost always get blamed. That's the mentality in the department of human services: 'You're here and we're here, and you do what we tell you to do.' So what they really couldn't do was develop relationships and get rich in their actions with the folks."

CCLC worked with the department's Elevations program, training people in work, life and parenting skills and other areas related to adjusting to the end of welfare benefits.

CCLC's contract ended June 30. Shakir and Fardán say the DJFS told them the program ended because its success rate was below expectations.

"(The department) expected people to get on the job, stay on the job and even increase and better themselves with just six months of intense (training)," Shakir says, "It was not really too realistic."

But Shakir and Fardán believe that money — not success rates — are what doomed the program.

"With the new (Bush) administration, we feel what's happened is the focus has moved from welfare reform to education," Shakir says. "Big blocks of dollars have been moved over to the education, even though they've got windfall savings from what they've done with welfare reform, in the billions of dollars.

"In this state alone, that's $2 billion of extra money that is saved from all of those folks who have either been shoved off of welfare, have worked their way off of welfare. That $2 billion is now being moved to education, because the new administration, the national administration, needs a legacy that is not on the shirttails of Mr. Clinton."

Gideon says the department is looking at internships for people coming off welfare. The only problem: no pay.

Shakir and Fardán attribute much of the local increase in black-on-black crime, shootings, bank robberies and child deaths to stress from the end of public assistance.

"One of the things we are looking at is, what is going to happen to these people? " Shakir says. "The programs may stop, but the need is going to continue on." ©

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