While the weather is cool compared to normal in this part of the Sonoran Desert, the talk at the NASCSP Conference has been hot with passion and purpose. Clarence Carter, Director of the Arizona Department of Economic Security, and formerly of the Bush Administration, spoke at the Conference Opening from his long years of experience and wisdom gained.
“The safety net doesn’t really exist,” he says. In Washington D.C. and the federal government and in many states, the “net” consists of a lot of different programs with different, if similar, goals, each with their own leadership and funding sources. Often the community action programs of all types focus on procedure and not outcome. This often forces people to act against their own self-interest to get program benefits. For example, people who need help worry that if they get a job, even at minimum wage, they may be cut off from the aid they need to begin a more independent life. So they stay dependent on program assistance.
“In Arizona, 1.6 million people receive some kind of state and federal assistance, out of a total population of 6 million,” says Carter. In Arizona, they are beginning to fight this trend by putting all state community services under the same roof at the Department of Economic Security. “We have to re-invent the nation’s safety net. It’s okay to say that the Emperor has no clothes. We like the Emperor, but we have to get real.”
That kinds of sums up the mood of the conference. People are not angry at the way things are, though they could be and there is plenty of blame to go around, from the economic crisis largely brought about by the financial elite and the grid-locked Congress. It’s like the weather. You may not like it, but you deal with it. Problems are being solved by the real heroes who keep working for a better life for all Americans. Maybe life in the desert is the best metaphor. You have to be smart and tough to survive, and thrive!