Anita Azariah brings a unique perspective to life in Snohomish County.
As someone who emigrated to the area in 1994 with a pair of masters degrees – one in biology and another in social work – she essentially started again to build a life and career for herself in her new country.
In recent years she has worked with children and families, including those touched by poverty, homelessness and addiction. Giving people a focused, short-term “hand up,” as opposed to ongoing handouts, is a more effective way to help move them forward, she says.
Social service system needs more support
Changing some of the ways the County provides social service benefits is necessary, Azariah says. “When people come here as immigrants, they are put on the top of the list for supportive housing, whereas people that live here can be waiting for years. I believe there should be separate programs for immigrants, and there should be an expiration date on those,” she says.
Offering housing or other income-based social benefits with no end date attached gives little incentive for anyone to move beyond their current situation, she adds.
Cash jobs contribute to ‘working the system’
In Azariah’s early years in the U.S., she worked for cash under the table while waiting for a work permit and legal status, and took low-paying jobs. But she also recalls her strong desire to get ahead. “I wanted to do things legally and enjoy all the benefits of having a green card, and ultimately citizenship so I was not depending on the system to feed me,” she says. “Some people want to continue working cash jobs, or other entry-level positions, so they can continue gaining benefits from the state.”
And surviving on social benefits can become a trap that is difficult for some people to get out of, she adds. “When people get used to it, they don’t want to give it up.”
Tough love stance matched
When working with substance-addicted residents, Azariah says, “tough love is the only way to go. You should provide compassion and love, but if they are not taking steps to help themselves, those benefits should be reconsidered. Otherwise we are just enabling people.”
In the runup to the Nov. 4 election for Snohomish County Council, she has been impressed with the stance of District 2 candidate Anna Rohrbough, who has campaigned on providing more educational opportunities to get people working and out of poverty, and multi-pronged recovery programs for those battling addiction.
“She actually has solutions that match my thoughts,” Azariah says. “I have seen Anna interact, and it’s clear that she loves people and she listens, she actually hears their problems.”
Goal is to help families thrive
“I want to provide people with opportunities to gain the tools and skills they need so that they can provide for their own families, building a sense of pride and belonging to our community,” Rohrbough says. “I hope to continue to make Snohomish County a place where all people feel welcome and those who choose to live here, have the potential to thrive.”
PDC – Paid for by the Campaign to Elect Anna (R). For more information electanna.com