Fair teaches students how struggling families budget money

St. Edward’s University students had an opportunity to learn what it’s like to be on welfare at this semester’s Well Fair.

The Well Fair was created in the fall 2010 semester by Ali Nichols and Catie Johnson.

“Ali was working on her Capstone paper, and she became frustrated with the perception of welfare,” said sophomore Alyssa Haney, one of the coordinators of this semester’s fair.

Since then, the Well Fair has grown to be a place where students can learn about the struggles of the welfare system and those who live with it. The fair takes place close to the end of both the spring and fall semesters.

This semester’s Well Fair took place Nov. 16 on the Ragsdale Lawn and was set up like an obstacle course.

Students started at a tent where Well Fair workers had them spin a wheel that determined what the student’s situation would be.

Different situations were typed on colored strips of paper. For example, orange strips told the story of a Haitian woman with two young children. The family came to the United States to seek political asylum.

Along with the situation, students also received a chart that would help keep track of what kind of benefits they could get according to their situation.

About eight booths were set up in a circle so that students could make their way through the welfare system.

The booths ranged in topics from Food Stamps to Social Security, and each booth had a student ready to talk about different aspects of the said programs.

“There’s a high emphasis on the ‘temporary’ in TANF [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families]. TANF is a big piece [of the welfare system],” said junior Kirsten Kelley.

The purpose of TANF is to provide short-term assistance to children and their families and to promote job preparation, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services website. In 2006, the average amount of TANF assistance a family received monthly was $372.

Students working the booths at the Well Fair were part of a Social Policy class offered at St. Edward’s that teaches students how to analyze public policy with an emphasis on social work and welfare, according to the course description.

At the fair, booth workers would tell participants what kind of help they would receive based on the situation described on the colored strips of paper.

For example, the Haitian woman and her children would not qualify for any type of governmental assistance for the two years leading up to the decision of whether or not they’d be granted asylum.

She would not be eligible for the Federal Food Stamp program, which is now the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

“The name change decreases the stigma of people selling the stamps for drugs and alcohol,” said senior Cassie Lopez.