Doling for dollars

The Cold War over, defense giant Lockheed Martin mines another government program for profit -- the war on poverty

In its contract with the Dallas County Development Board, Lockheed Martin is only obligated to keep 25 percent of able-bodied welfare recipients in its programs, and only 6.7 percent of work-ready food-stamp recipients.

These surprisingly low requirements reflect the focus of welfare reform. The main objective: Get people off the dole. Keeping people gainfully employed is clearly secondary.

The federal government, in fact, cuts the state and Lockheed Martin some slack even on those low percentages if substantial numbers of people somehow fall off the Texas welfare rolls.

Lockheed Martin, however, has a significant financial incentive to meet its modest participation goals. The company can be penalized $40,000 if it fails to meet the participation rates required in its contract with Dallas County. If it exceeds the goals, it gets a $40,000 bonus.

Lockheed Martin's Jill Brown says the company is currently getting 20 percent participation in its work program among welfare recipients--less than its contract calls for.

She quibbles, however, with the development board's method of setting the goal percentage and has taken her argument to the state.

A $40,000 penalty, she adds, would wipe out Lockheed Martin's profit.
From a social-policy standpoint, 80 percent of Dallas County's welfare recipients aren't participating, and the state doesn't particularly care as long as its welfare roll keeps shrinking.

These women and children who rely on welfare get none of Ms. Evans' instruction, none of the caseworkers' help, and none of the child-care and transportation subsidies for which they're eligible in the work program.

Lockheed Martin, meanwhile, doesn't have to pay for seminars to get them in the work force. But the company is somehow taking credit for getting them off the dole.

"Lockheed's prerogative is to knock as many people off as possible with as little benefits as possible," says ACORN's Kim Olsen. "That's it."

During the rest of her seminar, Ms. Evans covers networking, resumes, thank-you letters, and other subjects. At about 11 a.m., though, she adjourns the class to help students find job leads.

For her five food-stamp recipients, Ms. Evans relies heavily on computerized lists provided by the Texas Workforce Commission. Employers send openings to the state agency.

But Evans also develops leads on her own time. She says she rarely passes by a help wanted sign without going inside to inquire. Her 16-year-old son, whom she mentions several times in class, is annoyed by her constant vigilance. "Mom," he says, "do you have to do that today? You're not even working."

One Wednesday morning, Ms. Evans sits alone in her empty classroom. All of her students are out on referrals--except for the loud woman who sits in the back. She had called in earlier that day to tell Ms. Evans that her father suffered a heart attack. She wanted to know if her absence would jeopardize her benefits. One day doesn't matter, Ms. Evans said. But after two absences, the woman would have to start the class all over again to continue receiving full benefits.

Ms. Evans says she believes the Lockheed Martin program works. She rarely sees students return to her classes. "I tell them point-blank--I don't want to see them in my class again," she says.

Ms. Evans admits she once received food stamps herself, while she was in college. "I treat people the way I want to be treated," she says. "These people are no different than me--except they are unemployed."

She also supports the state's welfare reforms. "I'm all for reform," she says. "I think everyone has a work ethic." But she bends a few rules to make things work. Her food-stamp recipients are supposed to work at least 30 hours a week unless they have small children. But "If they're working part-time, we work with them" to retain their food-stamp benefits, Ms. Evans says.

Even outside of class, Ms. Evans brags about her students. "The one I am most proud of," she says, "is William [Robinson]. He has three referrals."

A week after the seminar ended, Robinson would be among those who'd snagged a job. A church hired him as a groundskeeper for $7 an hour, plus health benefits.

Ms. Evans found the job on the computer and made an initial call. She didn't tell them about Robinson's reading problem. "I don't go into that kind of detail," she says.

It is Good Friday, the last day of Ms. Evans' seminar. She asks the class what's significant about this day.

The room falls silent. Then one woman raises her hand and says it's the day Jesus Christ was born.

Audible tsks can be heard, but no one volunteers the correct answer. For once, Ms. Evans seems a little taken aback. "Come on, you guys," she says. "It was the day Christ was nailed to the Cross."

Before wrapping up her seminar--when she lavishes praise on her students for staying the course--she distributes a handout titled "It's easy to keep that job!"

Just then, Nathaniel Pipkins, the ex-con, barges into the classroom. It is 9:05 a.m., 35 minutes after class began. Pipkins is wearing a torn gym suit and sneakers. "Sorry," he says. "I had a rough night."

Ms. Evans gives only a playful warning look. "I guess he knows because he's starting work on Monday, he can come in late," she says. Pipkins has gotten a job operating a forklift for a company that makes car interiors. His pay is $6 an hour, but he expects to get a raise in about a month--when he'll also begin receiving health benefits. "I want them to see that I want this job," Pipkins says.

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