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Welfare/Poverty Simulation continues to provide valuable learning tool
Welfare/Poverty Simulation continues to provide valuable learning toolApril 06, 2004Wendy S. Loughlinwsloughl@syr.edu
Every year in the College of Human Services and Health Professions, the Welfare/Poverty Stimulation allows students from across the college to gain insight into the lives of the populations they may one day serve. An interdisciplinary learning experience, the simulation is designed to sensitize students to the realities of poverty-realities faced every day by nearly 35 million Americans. This year’s simulation was held on April 4 at Drumlins. Nearly 150 students and 25 volunteers from community service agencies participated in the exercise, which has been held since 1998.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for students in the college to connect with other students, faculty, and professionals from the community,” says Debra Connolly, field placement administrator in the Department of Nutrition and Hospitality Management and primary organizer of the event. “Students develop a sense of empathy for the clients they will serve, and become aware of the influence they can have in the areas of advocacy and policy vis-a-vis individuals living in poverty.”
Students were organized into small groups representative of family units, and given detailed family profiles and various supplies, such as Food Stamps and bus vouchers. After assessing their family’s needs, expenses, and financial situation, the students proceeded to live a “month” (four 15-minute weeks) in the life of their family. During that time, they had to obtain funds through employment or welfare, secure food and shelter, pay bills, and respond to various unforeseen circumstances that can seriously strain a low-income family.
The students were also exposed to a wide variety of community resources, including welfare and employment offices, Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) services, healthcare centers, pawn shops, schools and daycare centers, grocery stores, police stations, banks, utility companies, a food bank, homeless shelters, and senior dining services. Faculty and staff from the college and volunteers from the local community “staffed” these fictional locations, interacting with the students in ways that reflected real-life situations and gave students a glimpse of what it is like to utilize the systems of social support that are in place today.
The simulation was originally created by the Reform Organization of Welfare (ROWEL) to educate legislators about the realties of living in poverty. In the college, the simulation was expanded to better reflect the education and training students receive and the types of services available to low-income people.
Today, in the United States, 34.6 million people are living in poverty; 4.9 million are receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF); and 23.3 million are using Food Stamps. “The Welfare/Poverty Simulation helps students prepare to work with these populations,” says Connolly. “They briefly experience some of the day-to-day struggles and sacrifices faced by families living in poverty. It raises their awareness and sensitivity.”
Students who participate in the Welfare/Poverty Simulation demonstrate marked changes in attitude toward the welfare system and people living in poverty. In pre- and post-simulation surveys, students are asked to respond to such statements as “Welfare benefits are easy to obtain”; “People on welfare are lazy”; “People on welfare are like me”; “People who cheat the welfare system should go to jail”; and “I am responsible for welfare reform.” Attitude change after the exercise shows a greater appreciation of obtaining welfare benefits and living on a poverty income. Specifically, students report a decreased belief that people on welfare are lazy and could leave welfare if they “tried harder.” They are also less likely to believe that welfare benefits are easy to obtain and adequate to a family’s needs. The exercise also increases students’ belief that welfare reform is a concern, and that it is within their power to bring about change in this area.