Protesters voiceBy Heather Tang
Next month, the Lopez family will lose its $686 monthly welfare checks. After nearly two years on welfare assistance, the family of four will be left to survive with only $500 in monthly food stamps.
"We'll be forced into a crisis. Hopefully, somebody will hire my husband but if worse comes to worse, I'll have to work," said Kimberly Lopez, who is partially disabled following an accident seven years ago.
The Lopezes and 6,000 other Hawaii families will be cut off from cash assistance this fall, part of state efforts to wean families off benefits before they hit a national five-year welfare limit.
Lopez and members of the Welfare & Employment Rights Coalition gathered yesterday at the Department of Human Services to smash clocks in a symbolic gesture, calling for a "timeout" to reassess a 3-year-old Welfare Reform Law.
Coalition members are asking the government to reassess the five-year limit on the receipt of federal benefits in a recipient's lifetime, contending that such sanctions are ineffective and only result in family homelessness, unemployment and poverty.
State reform programs in 1996 resulted in welfare-to-work programs under the Department of Human Services, designed to move welfare recipients into the job force and teach job-related skills.
"They're designed to move people out of an inactive state," said Director Susan Chandler.
But the coalition says Hawaii's job shortages hinder financial advancement, instead forcing people into volunteer positions.
"They should take away the time limit and wait until the economy improves. Who's to say that you eat today or you don't eat tomorrow? The system is set up to fail," said welfare recipient Eseta Ulu.
The group will send its message to President Clinton, Congress, Gov. Ben Cayetano and the department.
Chandler defended the state and federal welfare laws but supported yesterday's rally.
"A family won't be sanctioned just because they haven't found a job. It's only if they haven't participated in any work-related activity," she said.