Making welfare reform work
Social activist urges people to take active role in welfare reform

by Jennifer Pritchett
Northern News Services

RANKIN INLET (Apr 29/98) - A Northern social activist says she is worried that the new system isn't being put into place properly and will stop some Keewatin residents from getting the assistance they desperately need.

Arlene Hache, who flew from Yellowknife to Rankin Inlet recently, said welfare reform that has been taking place across the NWT since last year is designed to get people off social assistance faster by making them more productive while they are still recipients.

It's up to recipients, however, to make it work for them.

Some of the new requirements for assistance include having to provide a job-search plan within three months, volunteer in the community, receive training in a recognized program, or care for their children if they are under the age of one.

"In theory, there's nothing wrong with it (welfare reform), but it's not being carried out properly," she said. "I think income-support workers don't have the time to do it properly."

Hache maintained that government cutbacks will make it difficult for welfare reform to achieve what it has been designed to do, but said it's up to the communities to take a more active role in the process of deciding who receives what and for how long.

"I see the change only happening when people in the communities start going to the income-support worker with their choices," she said.

Welfare reform has given the local authorities more of the decision-making power, and this means, Hache said, that people have to lobby their workers for what's best for people in the community.

A good example of this, she added, is the fact that some recipients can only use their food coupons at the Northern Store and are unable to take advantage of sales at other stores.

The only way things like this can change is if recipients point out to their case workers that it would make more sense if such things were done differently.

"They (income-support workers) have the flexibility to do it, but they choose not to," she said.

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