Bill would require public assistance recipients to perform community service

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Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville

Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville

A bill that would require those receiving public assistance to perform at least 20 hours of community service was carried over in a Senate committee Wednesday, after the sponsor said it was too broadly drafted and committee members raised some concerns.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Bryan Taylor, R-Prattville, had already drawn criticism from Alabama Arise, a nonprofit that works on poverty issues. Arise said the bill as drafted would overwhelm schools and nonprofits and did not accurately reflect the lives of those who receive assistance.

Speaking in the Senate’s Children, Youth Affairs & Human Resources committee, Taylor said the bill was modeled on similar legislation pending in Michigan and Mississippi, and would encompass anyone on public assistance who was able-bodied and not currently looking for work.

“There are plenty of projects out there that will help restore the values we need to place on a strong work ethic, and restore dignity for those receiving public assistance,” Taylor said.

The Department of Human Resources, which administers most federal assistance programs in the state, would be charged with developing a list of eligible organizations for community service.

Carol Gundlach, a policy analyst with Alabama Arise, said the legislation as currently written did not have exceptions for individuals who may receive public assistance and lack transportation or the ability to work, such as the elderly or mothers of very young children. Gundlach also said the vast majority of those receiving public assistance, such as through the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps, had jobs and would not have the time to commit to community service.

“The truth of the matter is most people receiving public assistance are working,” she said. “They’re working or trying to work.”

Taylor said the bill was not intended for those on public assistance who may be working. The senator also said he hoped the legislation would be flexible enough to allow waivers to be granted in individual circumstances.

“We want to get away from the entitlement mentality that has trapped people in a cycle of poverty and dependence,” he said.

Arise also raised concerns that the bill as written did not provide coordination with schools and nonprofits that would handle the community service participants. DHR did not have an immediate comment on the bill Wednesday morning.

Committee members seemed sympathetic to Taylor’s concept, but questioned its execution. Sen. Linda Coleman, D-Birmingham, questioned whether DHR still had the resources to administer a community-service type program.

“For the last three or four years, we’ve been streamlining government,” she said. “Now we are adding a huge, huge responsibility on an already short, streamlined staff in a department . . . that has a lot of cases to try to fulfill.”

Taylor said Tuesday that the bill as drafted was broader than what he had intended. The committee voted to carry over the bill for consideration at a future date. Taylor said he would meet with the individual senators to discuss their concerns.

– posted by Brian Lyman

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