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Subcommittee Examines the Work Requirements of Welfare Reform

On April 3, during the second in a series of hearings on welfare reform issues, the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources focused its attention on the work requirements in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash welfare programs.

Chair Wally Herger (R-CA) noted that “since the States started reforming welfare, a renewed ethic of work has swept over America’s welfare system.” “The best measure of change,” he said, “is that, today, single mothers are more likely to work than even married mothers, with working never-married mothers close behind,” adding that “during the early 1990s fewer than half of never-married mothers worked.”

In his opening remarks, Rep. Ben Cardin (D-MD) called the work requirements “the most important component of welfare reform.” He cautioned, however, that despite the declining caseloads, “enthusiasm should be tempered” due to the “uncertainty of the economy” and the lack of information about “how many former recipients keep their jobs.”

Several of the witnesses praised TANF’s focus on work requirements and urged Congress to continue to give the states the flexibility to advance their own programs. Douglas Howard of the Michigan Family Independence Agency testified that his state’s cash assistance caseload has consistently declined over the past eight years. He said that “whether the declines are driven by policy changes or the strong economy of the 1990s, one thing is clear—the availability of jobs combined with work requirements have played an important role in moving recipients into the workforce.” He asked the subcommittee to “continue to rely on the experience of the Governors and the states.”

Representing the perspective of the business community, Rodney Carrol of the Welfare to Work Partnership assured the subcommittee that businesses are doing their share “to hire and retain former welfare recipients.” Mr. Carrol also gave high marks to TANF’s work requirements, and urged that lawmakers do more “to prepare welfare recipients for their first day of work.”

When Rep. Nancy Johnson (R-CT) asked the witnesses “if there was enough money in the TANF program for day care, health care, mental health and substance abuse programs,” and whether the business community was using the Work Opportunity Tax Credit. Mr. Carroll responded positively. He said that he “would love to see the same level of funding” in this year’s budget, and that “some companies are using the Work Opportunity Tax Credit.”

Jason Turner of New York City’s Human Resources Administration also told Rep. Johnson that there have been sufficient funds to cover substance abuse and child care programs. He described how the work requirements in TANF are being carried out “in the country’s largest local welfare program,” explaining that New York City has a work experience program in which recipients are afforded “the opportunity to practice work while returning valuable services to the city and continuing to receive benefits.” Mr. Turner recommended that “constraints imposed on work experience programs by Federal regulations, such as the Fair Labor Standards Act, should be lifted through legislation.”

Steve Savner of the Center for Law and Social Policy told the subcommittee that, despite the declining caseloads in New York City, “there is no evidence that the program that Mr. Turner is supporting is any better than workfare.” “There have been weak results for work experience programs,” he continued, adding that “it is not necessarily the best way.” Mr. Savner also disagreed with Mr. Turner’s support for dropping federal regulations on work experience programs. “OSHA has experts who are used to dealing with people in the workplace, and they know best how to protect workers and enforce the laws.”

Mr. Savner also called on the subcommittee “not to hamstring the states on what they must do.” He said that the states should have flexibility, “but not too much flexibility,” and that more accountability should be built into the system.

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