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As a non-partisan citizen of this country, it is extremely frustrating to watch and hear the current news cycle that has become enamored with some of the most outlandish ideas and concepts from both political parties.    One of these extreme concepts was presented by a Republican candidate for the New York governorship, Carl Paladino.

Mr. Paladino stated that he wanted to “transform some New York prisons into dormitories for welfare recipients, where they could work in state-sponsored jobs, get employment training and take lessons in ‘personal hygiene’.”   When questioned about his idea that is gaining some steam in the Tea Party, Mr. Paladino stated that “he doesn’t want to send welfare recipients to prison dormitories- it would be voluntary.”  Wow!  So, there you have it- a voluntary program to that will create more financial strain on the state of New York, train welfare recipients without a defined scope and purpose and teach the respective individuals how to clean themselves.

To many single mothers, individuals who have lost their jobs in this stagnant economy and the self-responsible poor who have tried to pick themselves up, what a derogatory, condescending and indifferent proposal that has been presented by Mr. Paladino.  Most non-partisan historians would agree that the welfare system that dates back to the 1930s during the Great Depression has helped countless families and individuals overcome difficult and destitute times.  In 1996, under President Clinton, the bipartisan Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 changed the nation’s welfare system into one requiring work in exchange for time-limited cash assistance and created the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program.

Many critics continue to question this legislation.  But, with over 40 million people in the United States currently living at or below poverty thresholds, the reformed welfare system is still sorely needed.  To be sure, continual accountability and oversight of the TANF program is needed, as there will always be those who will try to do the opposite of what is right.  But, to isolate millions of people in neo-housing projects (i.e., prison dorms) to implement actions that are already required by law is simply not a wise mechanism to solve any problems associated with the TANF program in New York or anywhere else.  And, as a candidate for governor, Mr. Paladino should know that his proposal is not sound from at least three perspectives.

First, the proposal would result in unnecessary costs and expenditures for an already struggling state.  The TANF program is only a temporary financial assistance program with a maximum of 60 months of cash benefits within one’s lifetime.  In New York State, this holds true for individuals who participate in the federally-funded TANF program or the state Safety Net Assistance program.  At the end of the 60-month period, studies have shown that most recipients have found jobs or have acquired necessary job skills.

Second, the TANF program requires that recipients participate in work activities (i.e., unsubsidized or subsidized employment, on-the-job training, community service, vocational training, job skills training, education directly related to work or satisfactory secondary school attendance) as soon as they are job-ready or no later than two years after coming on assistance, with a few exceptions.  This is another reason why most recipients find jobs or acquire necessary job skills.

Third, let’s consider a proposed law that embodies personal hygiene classes for those from the inner cities, as Mr. Paladino stated.   Thus, those from the inner city must learn how to wash their hands, brush their teeth, use deodorant, take regular baths, shampoo their hair, file their nails, etc.  Doesn’t this sound like an excellent public policy?  It is very interesting when politicians from both sides of the political spectrum attempt to play the race card from a subtle perspective.

It is simply not prudent for candidates, exclusive of race, to suggest that prison dormitories should be established for welfare recipients across the board.  It is extremely disrespectful to those who are trying their best to overcome and rise above antagonistic circumstances.

Anthony Jerrod is a bestselling author, speaker, and public policy expert.

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