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Many Say Work First Isn't Working

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RALEIGH — There's evidence a plan designed to help people work their way off welfare may be doing as much harm as good. A diverse group of women, experienced with the state'sWork Firstprogram is sounding a warning with their concerns over the welfare-to-work program.

Welfare mothers, labor, anti-poverty and religious groups are all saying the program falls short when it comes to helping women who are on welfare.

They met in Raleigh Tuesday to discuss their concerns and ask Governor Hunt and state legislators to listen to some recommendations.

Linda Meekins is a divorced mother and college graduate in pursuit of the American dream, but she says she's trapped in the nightmare of welfare.

"The only job I've been able to secure is that of a substitute teacher," said Meekins. "And since this is a seasonal job, I don't have any benefits. I'm still living in poverty and I'm still on Work First."

Meekins told her story to members of Bread, Jobs and Justice, a statewide coalition that claims Work First not working for many women.

Shirley McClain is the executive director of the North Carolina Hunger Network. She said many women are in dire straits.

"They face an economic edifice in this country that deliberately creates poverty for many that benefits the few," said McClain.

The coalition says Work First is flawed. Members want legislators to remove a 2-year time limit on Work First recipients. Governor Hunt defends his Work First initiative.

"The point here is a lot of times people don't change until they have to, and people shouldn't just stay on welfare all their lives," said Hunt. "They ought to get a job. It is better for their families and their children."

Adding to his commitment to help welfare recipients, Governor Hunt's Work First Business Council announced thousands of job openings Tuesday. The council is providing an online website where employers can recruit employees from the Work First program.

The job opportunities might erase some concerns critics have regarding Work First, but they will continue to lobby legislators during the current short session to make sure Work First provides for welfare recipients.

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Kelly Wright, Reporter
Ron Pittman, Photographer
MJ Ainsley, Web Editor

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