By Amy Silverman
By Olivia LaVecchia
By Monica Alonzo and Stephen Lemons
By Chris Parker
By Michael Lacey
By Weston Phippen
After her first semester, Cathy frantically called her school.
"I told them there must be some mistake. These couldn't be my grades."
But there was no error. Cathy England, the straight-A student, would just have to think of herself in a new light.
"The fact that I can learn, it amazes me," she admits.
Less impressed is the state of Arizona. Welfare caseworkers insist that Cathy must go into a quickie program at a technical school like Long Medical Institute, where she can train as a physical therapist assistant.
When I called Long Medical, an admissions representative told me a physical therapist assistant might well start out at $7 an hour--$14,000 a year. In contrast, a spokesman at the Lincoln Institute for Sports Medicine, Jeff Lace, said a physical therapist could expect to start out at $40,000 a year and, with a little experience, quickly move to $50,000.
On the other hand, physical therapist assistants are not even licensed in Arizona, and therefore, are not much in demand.
"If I did what the state wants, I'd still need assistance," says Cathy. "My kids' lives would never improve, and I'd never get these teeth fixed. I'd lose them all, one by one."
No thanks, said Cathy.
Instead, Cathy and her kids will see her welfare check and food stamps razored from $647 a month to $267. And even that will stop after two years.
Frankly, Cathy does not know how she will cope. She will have to give up the apartment she shares with another single parent. Cathy has already filled out the paperwork for public housing.
Of course, all rules can be subverted. There is a way for Cathy and her kids to get all of her welfare check and all of her food stamps for the next two years. She can get pregnant. That's the way the system works.
Cathy can't help herself. She breaks into a big, gap-toothed smile thinking of the foolishness of it all.
In order to play that game, however, Cathy would have to pick another man out of the crowd. She hasn't got the knack of that yet, and it's not something they teach in college. No one, least of all Cathy, wants her pregnant.
Frankly, she's a little off guys.
"All these men, all three of them, told me I was ignorant, that I'd never amount to anything," says Cathy. "But the lady who is my English teacher tells me I am intelligent.
"I love going to school.