Browsing articles from "August, 2016"

Save The Children Ex-Employee Leaks Details About Refugee Abuse On Nauru

Aug 24, 2016   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on Save The Children Ex-Employee Leaks Details About Refugee Abuse On Nauru

Steve Inskeep talks with Viktoria Vibhakar, formerly of Save the Children Australia, about why she disclosed documents detailing alleged abuse toward refugee children on the island nation of Nauru.

Trump Courts Black Voters; Appears To Scale Back Immigration Plans

Aug 24, 2016   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on Trump Courts Black Voters; Appears To Scale Back Immigration Plans

Donald Trump has been changing his tone toward African-Americans and Latinos in recent days. His mostly doing so in white communities, but on Wednesday night he’ll speak in mostly black Jackson, Miss.

Clinton Foundation To Adjust Its Model If Hillary Is Elected President

Aug 24, 2016   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on Clinton Foundation To Adjust Its Model If Hillary Is Elected President

The Clinton Foundation, a big organization that has led to big political headaches for Bill and Hillary Clinton, plans to spin off its international work if Hillary is elected president.

Banned Burkini Highlights Tensions Over French Terrorist Attacks

Aug 24, 2016   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on Banned Burkini Highlights Tensions Over French Terrorist Attacks

In France, a number of mayors in beach towns have banned the body and head covering bathing suit worn by Muslim women known as the burkini. Muslims call it Islamophobia.

Federal Judge To Rule On Whether Peter Doig Painted Desert Landscape

Aug 23, 2016   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on Federal Judge To Rule On Whether Peter Doig Painted Desert Landscape

Artist Peter Doig is being sued. While artists do occasionally get involved in legal battles, this one is a bit different. In a Chicago court case involving mistaken identity, LSD and jail time, the famous artist has to prove before a judge that he didn’t paint a particular work.

Some Clinton Supporters Complain Only Wealthy Backers Have Candidate’s Ear

Aug 23, 2016   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on Some Clinton Supporters Complain Only Wealthy Backers Have Candidate’s Ear

With 76 days to go before the election, Hillary Clinton is busy doing closed-door fundraisers. David Greene talks to Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-OH, about whether Clinton needs more contact with voters.

Pharmacy Museum In Tucson Offers A Peek Into Drugstore History

Aug 23, 2016   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on Pharmacy Museum In Tucson Offers A Peek Into Drugstore History

Our series on Unsung Museums continues with a visit to the Pharmacy Museum in Tucson, Arizona.

Do You Read Terms Of Service Contracts? Not Many Do, Research Shows

Aug 23, 2016   //   by Administrator   //   World News  //  Comments Off on Do You Read Terms Of Service Contracts? Not Many Do, Research Shows

Researchers analyzed how people read privacy policies that are presented to them on the Internet. They found that people spend such little time reading privacy policies that — in an experiment — they consented to sharing their private information with the NSA, and to surrendering their first-born as payment for access to a fictitious social networking site.

Why Do We Judge Parents For Putting Kids At Perceived — But Unreal — Risk?

Aug 22, 2016   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on Why Do We Judge Parents For Putting Kids At Perceived — But Unreal — Risk?

What motivated you to pursue this line of research?

Ashley: When Barbara and I first started talking about this project, the case that really stood out to me was the one about Debra Harrell — the McDonald’s worker who let her 9-year-old daughter play in a busy public park for several hours during the day while she (Harrell) was at work. The daughter had a key to her home (which was a six-minute walk away from the park) and a cell phone. But when the girl mentioned to an adult in the park that her mother was at work, the adult called the police, who arrested and jailed Harrell and put the daughter in state custody. I thought, here’s a single mother who works for low wages for a corporation that doesn’t provide child care, and she was treated as a criminal for letting her daughter do something that is relatively safe. It seemed like people were angry at this woman for not being a full-time mom — for not fulfilling the unrealistic expectation that mothers should be with their children at all times. Those are moral judgments, but people weren’t talking about it in moral terms. Instead, they were using the language of risk and danger — saying that Harrell was criminally negligent because she had left her daughter in a dangerous situation. So we started thinking about how people’s estimates of risk might not be about risk at all, but about moral judgment.

Barbara: I completely agree. Another piece that got me thinking was a first-person account by Kim Brooks that appeared in Salon a couple of years ago. Brooks was a mom who let her four-year-old son wait in the car for five minutes, on a cool day, while she dashed into a store to pick up a pair of headphones. A passerby saw the kid in the car playing on his iPad, took a photo of the license plate and reported Brooks to the police, who subsequently traced her license plate and charged her with a crime. Reading about the incident, I was struck by how the passerby, the police and the court all seemed to share the assumption that the child alone in the car was in terrible, imminent danger — which is just not objectively true. Now, to be clear, it’s not that unusual for a lot of people to share the same irrational fear. For example, a lot of people are afraid to ride in airplanes but not in cars, even though planes are much safer than cars. What’s interesting about this phobia about leaving a child alone is that (1) it is so widely shared, and (2) it has acquired the force of law — Harrell and Brooks were literally charged with crimes for allowing their children to be alone in circumstances that were, in their judgment as parents, age-appropriate and acceptably low-risk. I think the safety data show that their judgment was correct. As an analogy, imagine that you suddenly find yourself in a world where the fear of flying has become so common that parents who are seen trying to board a plane with their children are charged with child abuse, even though flying is actually not very dangerous.

Kyle: The increasing frequency of legal action against parents of the kind that both Ashley and Barbara describe was certainly our primary motivation. But in addition, we are all (I think) intrigued by both classic and more recent experimental work in psychology showing that people modify their factual beliefs in response to pressures that are surprising, including bringing those factual beliefs more closely in line with their moral views. This was part of the background that led us to wonder if widespread moral disapproval of leaving children unsupervised might actually be driving the hysteria about risk to children who are left alone.

What surprised you most about your findings?

Ashley: I was most surprised by the studies where people were explicitly asked to rate the morality (rightness or wrongness) of the mother’s actions, and specifically by how they judged mothers who left their children unintentionally. For example, the mother turns away from the child for a moment to return a grocery cart and is hit by a car while doing so. On a scale of 1 to 10 where 1 meant the mother did nothing wrong, people’s average rating of this situation was above 3. In other words, people think that a parent who steps away from their child even for a moment has done something morally wrong. I don’t have children myself, and I guess I was surprised that people are SO judgmental about other people’s parenting.

Kyle: I think what surprised me most were the results of two modifications we tried. In the first, we asked subjects to make an explicit moral judgment about the parent in addition to a judgment about risk. The idea was that if people had a different way to express their moral disapproval, this might lower the pressure to use risk judgments as a way of condemning the parents. In fact, asking subjects to make a moral judgment about the parents as well made their moral judgments influence their judgments about risk even more, not less. The second modification was to ask subjects to actually list the concrete things they thought might happen while the parent was gone. We expected that forcing subjects to explicitly consider what dangers are faced by the child would reduce the influence of moral judgment on risk judgment. But adding this manipulation did not change anything.

Barbara: I guess what surprised me the most was the difference in responses that we got from different groups of participants — men vs. women and parents vs. non-parents. I expected that mothers would be less likely than other people to buy into this paranoid view that any child, of any age, left alone for any length of time is going to drop dead the minute the mother looks away. I guess I figured that I’m a mother, and I’m not hysterical about this, so I assumed that other mothers weren’t either. But I was wrong — mothers rated all the situations as more dangerous than fathers did; followed by childless women and finally childless men. The people with presumably the most child care experience (mothers) actually expressed the most exaggerated overestimates of risk. I was genuinely surprised by that. But I guess that’s because I was expecting people to be rational, and people are just not rational about this subject.

Do you think there’s a lesson in your data for parents (or for non-parents)? If so, what is it?

Ashley: It seems to be socially acceptable to harass parents (particularly mothers) who are “caught” leaving their child unattended for any time at all. I found several videos online where someone (usually a young man) sees a baby waiting in a car outside a store, and he videotapes himself going into the store to berate and yell at the mother of this baby. These guys are so proud of their behavior that they post the whole thing on Facebook, bragging about how they put these women in their place. It’s like “catching” parents breaking this new rule gives strangers license to harass them. I would be happy if this study prompted people to think about that, and if people moved away from this mentality of “punishing the bad mommy.”

Barbara: I guess what I would like people to start thinking about is how this new legal standard of paranoid parenting enshrines a kind of class privilege. Besides the fact that it is irrational, the idea that you must watch your child every single second until they turn 18 is deeply classist. It’s not something you can even aim for unless you have a whole lot of money, and probably not a lot of children. For parents who are working, who have more than one child, who need to get something else done during the day — to say nothing of single parents — that model of parenting is absurd. If you think about Debra Harrell’s situation, she’s raising a child while working a minimum-wage job. Suddenly, we as a society have decided (without any rational basis) that she is negligent for allowing her 9-year-old to play in a public park. This is very, very disturbing to me. It is basically criminalizing poverty and single parenthood.

Kyle: I think these findings have clear policy implications. At the moment, we are simply relying on the intuitions of neighbors, police officers, DAs, judges, etc., to decide what constitutes negligence or endangerment, and we’ve shown that those intuitions are systematically influenced by their moral approval or disapproval of the parent’s conduct. Of course we should not allow parents to leave children in situations that are objectively dangerous, but unless there is clear evidence that something poses a significant risk, it should be parents who decide whether and when their child is mature enough to walk to school, wait in the car, to be home alone, etc. Right now, in many situations if a social worker or police officer thinks the child is in danger, they can intervene and take the child, arrest the parents, etc. But what our data suggest is that when people think they are judging danger to a child, much of what they are actually doing is imposing a moral judgment on the child’s parents. The relevant “danger” should be legally defined in terms of actual, immediate, demonstrable risk, rather than left up to the unexamined intuitions of bystanders, social workers, police officers or other individuals who may think something must be dangerous when it is actually quite safe. For example, eight times more children are killed in parking lots than in parked cars. But when a parent with a child in tow runs into the grocery store for a few minutes, he or she has to choose between allowing the child to wait in the car, which is safer but might get her arrested or jailed and/or her child taken away — and the more dangerous option of bringing the child with her because this is socially approved.

Also, in support of Ashley’s suggestion, many parents have told me about circumstances in which they would leave their children alone were it not for the attitudes of other parents (and fear of legal action, etc.). So…don’t be so judgy when you know your judgments are being influenced by things besides actual evidence, don’t allow those same judgments to determine criminal standards of negligence or endangerment, and parents who judge that they can safely leave their children alone in a given situation shouldn’t feel guilty about doing so just because they know that decision would be (irrationally) condemned by others. (Of course that doesn’t mean that parents never leave their children alone in what are objectively dangerous situation or that they shouldn’t feel guilty about doing so.)

Why do you think norms about leaving children unattended have changed so much over the past generation, especially in light of the fact that the risk of harm to children has not increased?

Ashley: We discuss this in our paper a bit. We think that something called the availability heuristic clearly plays a role. The way the availability heuristic works is this: The easier it is for you to think of an example of something happening, the more frequently you think that thing happens. Take the example of child abduction by strangers. It’s actually incredibly rare. But when it occasionally happens, it is covered on the news 24/7. Intellectually, we know these are rare events but they really scare us. It’s as if we’re seeing people we know get abducted and murdered, or sold into the sex trade or whatever, all the time. So we hugely overestimate the actual risk of that happening. But it is worth noting that this norm has not arisen everywhere. For example, I was in Norway earlier this year and people left buggies/strollers with infants outside of stores while they went inside to get coffee or have lunch with a friend. You never see this in the states. This is interesting because Norwegians and Americans presumably have similar access to news, so I’m not sure why so many Americans believe that any child left unattended is going to be abducted while Norwegians don’t believe that.

Barbara: Agreed. And another thing that I think has changed is that everyone is much more afraid of legal liability than they were 40 years ago. Children playing without parents in a public park may be seen as a potential liability for the city; a kid without a parent in a store buying Legos is seen as a potential liability for the store, and so on. To give some personal examples: I have two sons, aged 11 and 16. Recently, there was a day when the 16-year-old had to be at soccer practice and the 11-year-old had to be at chess class, both at 5 p.m. So I told my husband that I was going to drop off the 16-year-old at the park at 4:30. My husband (a longtime coach in this soccer league) said: “Well, I guess you can do that, but he’ll have to stay on the other side of the park and not near the soccer field — technically, the players can’t be there before the coach gets there, for legal reasons.” I was incredulous. My kid is old enough to drive himself to soccer practice, but he’s not allowed to wait in the park from 4:30 to 5 by himself? My husband went on to explain that, in fact, the coach is not supposed to allow any players under 18 even to go to the bathroom by themselves. They’re supposed to use the buddy system. Now, my son is 6’2″ and 220 lbs., and he’s willing to assume the risk of going to the bathroom alone. Their concern here is clearly not his safety, but their liability.

Kyle: Well, the explanation we give in the paper is in terms of what we call the “feedback loop.” The idea is that something (probably the availability heuristic) increased perceptions of risk to the point that a social norm against leaving children alone emerged. But once that norm was in place, moral outrage at those who violate the norm and inflated estimates of risk started reinforcing one another. That is, people increase their estimates of risk to better justify or rationalize the moral outrage they feel towards those who violate the norm, those higher estimates of risk provoke even more condemnation of parents who violate the norm, which elevates risk estimates still higher, and so on. That is a recipe for extremely rapid social change, and we suspect that the same feedback loop may operate in a variety of other domains.

In most of your studies, participants are evaluating a mother who leaves her child unattended. But in one study you instead consider fathers, and you find an interesting difference. For mothers, leaving a child unattended to go to work is about as bad as doing so to relax or to volunteer. But for fathers, leaving a child to go to work is comparable to leaving a child alone unintentionally — the case that was judged least morally bad and least dangerous. What do you think might explain this difference for mothers versus fathers?

Ashley: Yes, it’s a small difference (statistically speaking) but an intriguing one. I think people still (unfortunately) believe, explicitly or implicitly, that when a father leaves home to do paid work, he is taking care of his child by doing that. Whereas when a mother does the same thing, she is seen as abandoning her child to pursue her own interests. The mother’s paid work is seen as morally objectionable and thus as endangering the child, whereas the father’s paid work is not. Having said that, we didn’t explore this gender effect in any depth; we would want to replicate the finding at least once or twice before putting a lot of emphasis on it.

Kyle: My own suspicion is just a little bit different. Instead of seeing the father as taking care of the kid, just in a different way, I think subjects see work as more of an obligation for men than women. So people are in effect treating a woman’s decision to leave a child for work-related reasons as more voluntary than a man’s, that is, more as something that she did not “have” to do.

What do you think developmental psychology can contribute to the debate over free-range parenting?

Ashley: I think that developmental psychologists need to start talking about the costs of never allowing children to take a risk. People seem to make this calculation where they say: “Well, even though the chances of anything bad happening are small, there’s no harm in keeping an eye on the kids.” I think what developmental psychologists can say is: That’s mistaken — there is real harm in keeping an eye on the kids, if you’re keeping an eye on them every minute of every day. You know, psychologists study this thing called “self-efficacy” — it refers to a person’s confidence in their own ability to handle whatever comes up and succeed in a variety of situations, and it’s really important. But if kids are never allowed to take any risks or have any independence at all, they can’t develop self-efficacy. They can’t become adults who are ready to deal with problems and navigate the world.

Barbara: Exactly. For example, last summer my younger son (then 10) went to a half-day archery camp about a mile from our house. He rode his bike to and from the camp, and it was a really great experience for him. One day when he got home, he told me with great pride that his bike had broken, but he had fixed it. What happened was this: As he started climbing the steep hill home from camp, he downshifted too quickly and the chain fell off the bike. He said he thought about going back to the camp to borrow a counselor’s cell phone to call me, “But then I thought that even if you drove there, my bike wouldn’t fit in the car, so we would still need a way to get the bike home.” So he turned the bike upside-down, looked at it for a long time, and figured out how to put the chain back on. And then he rode the bike home. He was really, really proud of himself and I was really proud of him, too. This summer, he signed up for the same camp and was planning to ride his bike again. But he couldn’t because this year, new camp rules say that kids under 12 have to be dropped off and picked up by a parent. I think that’s a shame. It’s really a lost opportunity to develop a little independence and responsibility.

20 Years Since Welfare’s Overhaul, Results Are Mixed

Aug 22, 2016   //   by Administrator   //   News from US  //  Comments Off on 20 Years Since Welfare’s Overhaul, Results Are Mixed

Amber Lakin (center) and colleague Julia Porras work at Central City Concern, an organization that does outreach and job training to combat homelessness and addiction in Portland, Ore. Lakin went through the welfare system and now works with Central City Coffee, an offshoot of the main organization, which uses coffee roasting/packaging as a job training space.i

Amber Lakin (center) and colleague Julia Porras work at Central City Concern, an organization that does outreach and job training to combat homelessness and addiction in Portland, Ore. Lakin went through the welfare system and now works with Central City Coffee, an offshoot of the main organization, which uses coffee roasting/packaging as a job training space.

Leah Nash for NPR


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Leah Nash for NPR

Amber Lakin (center) and colleague Julia Porras work at Central City Concern, an organization that does outreach and job training to combat homelessness and addiction in Portland, Ore. Lakin went through the welfare system and now works with Central City Coffee, an offshoot of the main organization, which uses coffee roasting/packaging as a job training space.

Amber Lakin (center) and colleague Julia Porras work at Central City Concern, an organization that does outreach and job training to combat homelessness and addiction in Portland, Ore. Lakin went through the welfare system and now works with Central City Coffee, an offshoot of the main organization, which uses coffee roasting/packaging as a job training space.

Leah Nash for NPR

Twenty years ago, welfare as Americans knew it ended.

President Bill Clinton signed a welfare overhaul bill that limited benefits and encouraged poor people to find jobs.

“We’re going to make it all new again, and see if we can’t create a system of incentives which reinforce work and family and independence,” Clinton said at a White House bill signing ceremony.

The goals were admirable: help poor families get into the workforce so they’d no longer need government aid. They’d get job training and support, such as help with child care.

But the results have been mixed.

President Obama promotes the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, also known as the stimulus package, in February 2009.

The new program did work for millions of families, but not all. Many of the most disadvantaged people have been unable to get or keep jobs and they’re worse off than they were before, in part because there’s now a five-year lifetime limit on welfare benefits — and in some states, it’s lower. Arizona this year cut the limit to one year. The idea was that people would be encouraged to find work if they knew their monthly checks would end, but instead, some have been left high and dry.

“It turned out that not everybody could get full-time, full-year work,” says Kathy Edin, poverty expert at Johns Hopkins University and co-author of $2.00 A Day: Living On Almost Nothing In America.

She notes that before welfare reform, 68 percent of poor families received cash assistance. Today, that’s dropped to 23 percent.

States were also given a lot of flexibility over how to spend their welfare dollars, which they received in the form of a block grant. The result is that welfare — now called TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) — is very different depending on where you live. Some states, such as Oregon, are more generous. Others, such as Louisiana, have lower benefits and cover far fewer people.

In Louisiana, only four percent of poor families — 6,000 families in the entire state — now get welfare.

‘Why Look For A Job If I Already Have A Job?’

You’d think that Natasha Williams would be one of them. A 31-year-old single mother with a 12-year-old son, she’s constantly struggling. Her last job — a part-time security guard position — ended in July.

Williams and her friends, who are also struggling, are often short on money. Recently, she watched another woman’s baby in exchange for food.

“Instead of paying me the cash for watching the kid, she just brought me some stuff,” she says, pointing to several packages of meat on her kitchen counter.

Williams also gets help with her rent for her New Orleans apartment from a nonprofit organization.

Last year, she was homeless and lived out of her car after she’d had an accident, lost another job and was evicted. Every night she’d find a place to stay near Lake Pontchartrain on the northern side of the city.

“And I’d just go around it, and … park somewhere where it was real, real dark,” she says. “Just relax, and, well, try to relax, and just fall asleep.”

So if thing are so bad, why doesn’t she get welfare? Williams says it’s because it’s just not worth it. The benefits are extremely low — $188 a month. And to get them, she says she’d have to take time off from her current job search to go to a program to find out how to get a job. And until last month, she was working, even while homeless. She just didn’t earn enough to live on.

“Why look for a job if I already have a job?” she says. “Why can’t I just get a little help? It didn’t really make sense to me.”

It also doesn’t make sense to Danielle Molett, 22, who lives nearby in a shelter with her three children, ages 4, 3 and 2. Molett does get welfare and appreciates the extra cash, but this month it barely covered school supplies, like crayons, markers and notebook paper, that she had to buy for her kids.

(Left) Danielle Molett sorts through school supplies she purchased for her three children, a cost which absorbed most of that month's welfare check. (Right) Natasha Williams on the porch of her apartment in New Orleans. Last year, she was homeless and lived in her car, but she still didn't receive welfare.

(Left) Danielle Molett sorts through school supplies she purchased for her three children, a cost which absorbed most of that month’s welfare check. (Right) Natasha Williams on the porch of her apartment in New Orleans. Last year, she was homeless and lived in her car, but she still didn’t receive welfare.

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Pam Fessler/NPR

She still has to get diapers, hygiene products and other necessities she can’t buy with food stamps. But to qualify for the aid, Molett says she has to pack up her children, get on a bus and travel to two appointments a week and look for a job — even in the summer when they’re out of school. The state gives her some money for transportation and child care but not enough to cover her costs.

“It’s too much, they asking for too much,” Molett says.

‘Not The Most Accessible Or User-friendly’

Marketa Garner Walters, the new secretary of Louisiana’s Department of Family and Children Services, is sympathetic.

“We’re not the most accessible or user-friendly,” she says. “We have to figure out how to meet our clients where they are and how to make the help that we are giving them more accessible and readily available.”

Walters says one problem is over the years welfare spending in the state has been slashed. The law Clinton signed allowed states to use federal TANF funds for things other than welfare. And when state budgets were stressed after the Great Recession, that’s exactly what many of them did.

“So we now use TANF money to pay for things that are not traditional TANF expenditures,” she says — such as early childhood education and other programs that used to be funded by the state. She says her administration is concerned about the state’s poor and wants to replenish some of those welfare funds.

But Jan Moller of the Louisiana Budget Project is not optimistic the state will be able to find the money. He says welfare became something of a slush fund. The result is that today Louisiana uses only 8 percent of its welfare money on cash benefits for the poor and only 1 percent on programs to help them find jobs. It’s one reason benefits are so low.

“I think there is a perception among the taxpaying public that a lot of their dollars are being used to let people sit at home and not work, and the reality is that simply isn’t true in Louisiana,” Moller says. “It wasn’t very true 20 years ago, and it’s certainly not true today.”

Ron Haskins, who helped write the welfare reform bill as a GOP congressional aide, now thinks giving states so much flexibility was a big mistake. He says those at the lower end of the economy are worse off than they were before. Often they’re single mothers who work part-time jobs and get little or no help from the fathers. They face multiple hurdles, like unstable housing, poor education and debt.

Still, Haskins, now with the Brookings Institution, says the law did accomplish a lot, such as helping millions of low-income women into the workforce. And with the help of food stamps and tax credits, their poverty rates have gone down.

“More of them now are really committed to work. They like to work, they say they like to work. They don’t have great jobs, we all know that, but their families are better off economically, so to that extent, the reforms have worked well,” he says.

In Oregon, A Jobs Program That Pays

Nationally, there are about 4.1 million people on federally funded cash assistance programs. But Edin says that number doesn’t tell the whole story.

“Half of those are in just two states: California and New York, meaning that in many states across the United States there is virtually no welfare system at all,” she says.

But that’s certainly not the case in Oregon, where about 54,000 adults and children live in households receiving TANF benefits. The state also has an innovative job training program called JOBS Plus that’s helping welfare recipients find permanent employment. Participants in JOBS Plus get a paycheck for working for up to six months in a job they’re placed in. They don’t get government assistance while they’re working; they’re paid by their employers, who are reimbursed by the program.

Amber Lakin of Portland, Ore., is enrolled in JOBS Plus, filling orders and arranging deliveries for a coffee roasting business. It’s helping her learn basic office skills, with the goal of eventually landing a full-time job.

Lakin is enrolled in JOBS Plus, filling orders and arranging deliveries for a coffee roasting business in Portland.

Lakin is enrolled in JOBS Plus, filling orders and arranging deliveries for a coffee roasting business in Portland.

Leah Nash for NPR


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Leah Nash for NPR

“I definitely make more than my food stamps and my TANF combined,” she says. The average TANF benefit in Oregon is $506, among the highest in the country.

Lakin says a few years ago she was addicted to meth and trapped in an abusive relationship. She got into a drug treatment program, and also applied for TANF.

Lakin credits her case manager with the Oregon Department of Human Services for helping to bring some order to her chaotic life. The agency’s Kim Fredlund says developing a meaningful relationship with TANF recipients is one of the program’s goals. In fact, the state is no longer calling them case managers. The new job title is “family coach.”

“A coach’s role is really about encouragement. It’s about helping to challenge someone when they’re struggling with something — teaching them, and really helping them move forward,” she says.

Fredlund says that Oregon is trying to run the program more like a for-profit business. Case in point: Virtually everyone who walks in the door is helped in 30 minutes or less.

The agency’s commitment to the program is backed up by state lawmakers. Last year the Oregon legislature used savings from the drop in caseloads following the recession to raise income thresholds and allow more people to stay on TANF longer.

“It’s not as bad here as some other states, but we still have a stubborn poverty rate,” says Chuck Sheketoff, head of the Oregon Center for Public Policy, a left-leaning think tank in Portland. The state’s poverty rate is 16.6, slightly higher than the national average — but nearly half of its families with children in poverty receive TANF benefits. That’s well above the national average and one of the main reasons Oregon’s venture into welfare reform is considered successful.

Chris Lehman is a reporter with the Northwest News Network.

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