Sept. 30, 1999
FREDERICTON (CNB) - Welfare reforms in the United States have some interesting components, but Human Resources Development Minister Percy Mockler cautions not all such reforms are necessarily suitable for New Brunswick.
Mockler returned this evening from Milwaukee, Wisconsin after spending two days at a symposium on Wisconsin Works, a back-to-work program for social assistance recipients introduced in 1995 by Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson. The minister also had the opportunity to meet with Governor Thompson and to speak with him about the success the state has had in helping social assistance recipients get back into the workforce.
"It was my first opportunity to look closely at how another jurisdiction is dealing with the issues of poverty and it was a very eye-opening trip for me," Mockler said. "Wisconsin has taken a creative approach to addressing the challenges of poverty and social assistance, and I commend them for that. Now, we in New Brunswick can take the time to consider their experiences and the many lessons they have learned, and decide if any of the facets of this program are appropriate for us here."
Although the department is open to looking at every successful program, Mockler's main focus is in putting together made-in-New Brunswick solutions to the serious challenges of poverty.
"I am looking for new ideas that will help New Brunswickers find a better place for themselves and their families," the minister said. "We are committed to reviewing all social assistance and related programs and to removing the barriers and disincentives that discourage people from finding full and part-time work. Being able to work helps bring greater dignity and satisfaction to their lives. This is just the beginning of how we intend to fulfill this commitment."
While praising the supports that Wisconsin Works provides to people to ease their transition into the labour force, Mockler was less enthusiastic about the obligations that Wisconsin Works imposes on participants - more commonly referred to as work-for-welfare.
"This program is innovative in helping people leave social assistance and get into the workforce; however, work-for-welfare has never been an issue in New Brunswick," Mockler said. "We have found that the great majority of New Brunswickers, when presented with the option, rarely turn down an opportunity to improve the situations of themselves and their families."
Mockler was most interested in how Wisconsin has attempted to include people on social assistance in the design of their own employment and training programs and to include the Wisconsin business community in helping to break the cycle of poverty. He feels these are goals that New Brunswick can emulate when designing its own programs.
"We are very open about this issue," he said. "I'm going to be working in the coming months to include the people of New Brunswick in creating made-in-New Brunswick solutions. It is imperative that all New Brunswickers participate in the process, particularly the business community in providing the jobs we need for this to succeed."
MEDIA CONTACT: Brent Staeben, HRD-NB, 506-453-3391.