WASHINGTON — A NEW effort is underway to help prevent the growth of America's underclass - those who remain on welfare from generation to generation. A 17-community program, called New Chance, is trying to help get unmarried teen mothers off welfare rolls by providing them with education and social services. Designed by the Manpower Development Research Corporation , a non-profit organization based in New York, the program began full operation this month.
New Chance aims to see if an 18-month infusion of education and social services for mothers and children will have a significant impact to get them off welfare and out of poverty, prevent pregnancies, and improve children's development. Beside basic education, programs for mothers include health, occupation training, personal development, parenting, and family planning. Services for their children include child care and medical assistance.
Two years ago, Congress passed a welfare-reform law that required states to give special aid to unmarried young mothers who are high-school dropouts. Half the $35 billion the United States spends each year for its cornerstone welfare program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), goes to mothers who had their first child when in their teens and dropped out of school.
Experts say that these women stay the longest on the welfare rolls. Thenotes that mothers who received welfare before they were 22 years old received AFDC for an average of 8.8 years.
officials say the program differs from others because it is more intensive, provides all services at the same place, and lasts longer than those that ease welfare recipients onto the work rolls. New Chance is voluntary, butsays it could be used by some states as a mandatory workfare program.
Making any such program voluntary is a serious mistake, some experts insist. ``What is supported by evidence is that participation has to be required,'' says Lawrence Mead, professor of political science at New York University. ``Mandatory programs, such as the one San Diego is running, are having the larger impact because they have the authority'' to require participation, ``And that achieves a higher level of commitment'' from welfare recipients to the program, which results in a higher degree of success for the program and its participants.