BROOKLYN, Md. – Joanne Ceebil has already been kicked off welfare once, for failing to meet a welfare-to-work rule that required her to commit 30 hours a week to a job-training program.
Ceebil said that commitment actually took more like 50 hours, once she took the bus to get her daughter to Head Start and her son to day care, and then got herself to a program where she learned how to write a resume and interview for a job.
But the 21-year-old single mother needs the roughly $400 a month she had been receiving from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. She managed to get back in the program recently and, despite the hassles, said she will meet the work rules in the future.
“I think that’s wrong to kick people off,” she said. “A lot of people out here are single parents with kids and we need to pay our bills.”
But future requirements will likely be tougher for Ceebil and other TANF recipients.
For more than a year, federal lawmakers have been working on a welfare reauthorization bill that would increase child care funding — but would also add stringent rules that will demand more of TANF recipients.
Instead of the 30 hours of weekly welfare-to-work time that TANF recipients must now clock, proposals before Congress raise the standards to 40 hours a week. States would also be forced to show that a higher number of recipients are participating than before.
Ceebil is especially worried about the 40-hour rule — proof to her that lawmakers are out of touch with reality.
“That’s crazy,” she said. “They should take into account transportation time.”
But others say the tougher rules will benefit recipients in the long run.
“The idea of reform isn’t about getting a job,” said Robert Rector, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation. “There’s a recognition that people can’t get a job right away but there’s no justification for them to be sitting around doing nothing.”
Ceebil, who dropped out of high school in the ninth grade, could have gotten TANF credits by studying for her General Educational Developmental diploma, but she has not.
Instead, she has been attending the same type of job-skills program since she was 18, and considers it a waste of time. It is not learning how to write a resume that keeps her from working, it is the lack of reliable transportation and child care, she said.
“It’s not really hard for me to find a job,” Ceebil said. “It’s real easy. But the problem I have is lack of child care. . . . They say once you get a job you get day care vouchers. They should give us vouchers while we go look for a job.”
It is because she could not find someone she trusted to take care of her 8-month-old son, Tyrik, that Ceebil cut back her welfare-to-work hours this summer. That, and a missed appointment with her case manager, caused her to lose all cash assistance in September and October, said Yoanna Moisides, a staff attorney at the Homeless Persons Representation Clinic who helped Ceebil get back on welfare this month.
Strapped for cash, Ceebil has had to borrow money from her grandfather and friends to pay the phone bill and diapers, and she had to go to court when she failed to pay her $100 rent in her Brooklyn housing project.
Back on welfare now, she said she does not plan to wait around for tougher federal regulations that might cost her that assistance in the future: She is determined to find a job first that can support her and her children.
“I don’t care about those work programs,” she said. “I’ve had jobs before . . . and I don’t plan to be on (welfare) much longer.”