Oregon’s welfare agency, the Adult and Family Services Division of the Department of Human Services, is telling poor women on welfare to “Check the dump and residential/business dumpsters” to save money, according to a circular the agency is handing out in at least one welfare office. The Oregon Center for Public Policy (OCPP) obtained a copy of the circular.
“The Adult and Family Services Division is endangering the health of recipients of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, encouraging them to violate state law, and creating a beggar class among needy families,” wrote OCPP executive director Charles Sheketoff in an April 27 letter to Department of Human Services Director Bob Mink.
Findings from “Dumpster Tip” Investigation (PDF), report from the Department of Human Services to the Oregon State Legislature, May 9, 2001
Letter to Bob Mink, director of the Oregon Department of Human Services (PDF), including a copy of the AFS flyer, April 27, 2001
Letter signed by 27 Oregon State Senators to Bob Mink (PDF), April 30, 2001
Eugene Register Guard article Official Apologizes for Dumpster Remark (PDF), April 28, 2001
The OCPP asked Mink to “immediately make a public acknowledgement that the safety net is too small and that the agency has been wrong to suggest that TANF recipients scour dumps and dumpsters and bargain for prices to get by on the meager resources” provided by the Department. Sheketoff went on to ask Mink to issue “an apology to the women and children in the TANF program for the insulting suggestion that they engage in demeaning, unlawful, and unhealthful behavior.”
Sheketoff suggested that this would be an early test for the new DHS director. Mink was appointed director of the agency last week after serving for a few months as acting director.
“This problem challenges Mink to accept responsibility for the Department’s failures and give the clients the apology they deserve.. Every AFS office needs to be scoured clean of materials such as this, and those responsible need to be held accountable,” said Sheketoff.
The OCPP noted in its complaint letter that the suggestion to become “dumpster divers” shows the safety net is “broken.”
According to the OCPP’s analysis, cash assistance is worth less, and people have to be poorer, to qualify for assistance today than in 1991 or 1985. The public policy research group noted that the Governor’s proposed budget for extremely poor women with dependent children only makes matters worse by cutting cash assistance, making child care assistance more expensive and less accessible, and deprives families of job retention and wage enhancement services that are currently provided.
Sheketoff told the DHS director “Oregon’s poor cannot make up for vanishing programs by scavenging for other people’s trash, and DHS should not be asking them to do so.”
In addition to endangering the health of Oregon’s poor families, “dumpster diving” is illegal. State law prohibits removing recyclable materials from someone else’s refuse container.
The same document that suggested that welfare families scavenge dumps and dumpsters also suggested that they “bargain for prices” when trying to buy needed goods and services. Sheketoff called that suggestion “insulting and tantamount to turning these very poor families into beggars.”
“If they cannot even bargain for a better deal from the public agency that is supposed to serve them, how can they bargain for better deals from the private marketplace?,” asked Sheketoff.
“Policy makers and the public should call into question the DHS’s commitment to the goal of self-sufficiency and DHS’s concern for the dignity of the families they are directed to serve,” said Sheketoff.
Copies of the OCPP letter were sent to the Governor and various members of his staff, the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Services and their staff, the House Health and Public Advocacy Committee and the Senate Health and Human Services Committee and staff, and the Department of Administrative Services Budget and Management Division.
The Oregon Center for Public Policy is a non-profit research organization that analyzes budget, tax, and program issues important to low- and moderate-income Oregonians, the majority of Oregonians. A copy of the AFS flyer is attached. The OCPP letter to Mink is available at left.