Alaska has been, for several years now, an example of successful welfare reform on the state level.
Alaska's system is lauded as a model of promoting a ''work first'' philosophy -- that is, encouraging aid recipients to join the work force and learn new employment skills instead of continuing to rely indefinitely on public assistance.
Now, state leaders are looking at continuing those reforms. Last week, consultants from the American Institute for Full Employment laid out a proposal to an Alaska Senate subcommittee that would reward those who are trying to permanently join the work force and offer stronger penalties to those who refuse.
The institute is a nonprofit organization in Oregon that supports converting public-assistance benefits into wage subsidies. It conducted the assessment for free, which it does at the request of any interested state.
Currently, Alaska's system reduces welfare payments for those who are not trying to locate work, but never stops payments altogether. However, the consultants proposed that those recipients who refuse to look for work or to participate in skill-enhancing activities such as on-the-job training could eventually be denied public aid. Then, if the parent began moving toward a job, payments would resume.
The consultants also recommended creating a system to help those who are working but do not make enough to survive on their own without additional assistance, and force new parents to start looking for work sooner after a child is born.
Since welfare reforms went into effect four years ago, the number of families on public assistance in Alaska dropped from a monthly average of 12,096 to about 7,000.
Those are certainly encouraging results and they prove that welfare reform is, in fact, working. We support the state's continued efforts to further improve the welfare system.
More effectively rewarding those who are trying to help themselves and punishing those who are not is the right direction to be going. When everyone possible is an active member of the work force, it is good for our state, our communities and our families.
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