The Nation's Governors Reflect on Welfare Reform's Second Year-Pace and Success Far Exceed Expectations of Proponents and Skeptics Alike

Article excerpt

Pace and Success Far Exceed Expectations of Proponents and Skeptics Alike

Washington, D.C-Reflect ing on the end of the second year of the welfare reform law, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, the nation's governors hailed the pace and initial success of welfare reform, declaring that it had "far exceeded expectations of proponents and skeptics alike." The governors, speaking at their 90th annual meeting this summer, warned that continued traction in this steady climb of progress depends on a solid federal-state partnership.

"The nation's governors ushered in a new era of responsibility and a new vision for achieving independence through work," said National Governors' Association (NGA) Chairman Ohio Gov. George V Voinovich and Vice Chairman Delaware Gov. Thomas R Carper. "Governors played a key role in getting the welfare law passed, and we continue to demonstrate our leadership in making this law work. We urge in the strongest possible terms that Congress and the President uphold the historic welfare agreement reached in 1996 and reject any cuts and reduced flexibility in welfare or Medicaid. States have transformed welfare, lifting millions to independence and self-sufficiency Governors hope and expect to continue this partnership, which is making our success possible."

Since the 1996 enactment of the welfare law and the new flexibility and innovation made possible in its Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant, the number of individuals on welfare in the U.S. has dropped by 27 percent. According to several gubernatorial reports, the flexibility in the new law has unleashed a host of innovative approaches to help welfare recipients find jobs and succeed in their work.

A Race to the Top

America's governors are steering a welfare reform course toward work and independence that includes engaging communities and the private sector to help meet the challenges of moving people from welfare to work. Governors are providing assistance with transportation to expand access to work, and increased child care to support working families.

As caseloads decline, states are shifting spending from providing cash assistance to investing in the supports to fortify working families and fortify them for continued success on the job. Although nationwide caseloads decreased by nearly one third, overall state spending on welfare efforts has increased. States are spending significantly more on child care and services to help people find and keep a job. State spending for child care increased by more than 50 percent; spending on efforts to help welfare recipients succeed at work increased by more than 30 percent. This action refutes predictions of a "race to the bottom" among states.

Child care and transportation are two pillars of work stability that are fundamental to successful welfare reform. States are spearheading child care initiatives that provide affordable, accessible child care during various work shifts. At least 10 states are ensuring child care for all working poor families below a specified income level.

In addition, many jobs are not accessible by public transportation, particularly jobs in rural or suburban areas or jobs during nonstandard work hours. States are working with state and local transportation agencies to redesign public transportation routes and schedules to better accommodate reverse commutes and alternate work schedules. States are also using the flexibility provided under TANF for a variety of innovations, such as contracting for shuttles or buses; providing loans to families to purchase used cars; and training recipients to operate their own shuttle companies.

The flexibility of the two-year-old welfare law is allowing states to change the way they do business. More than ever, governors are focusing on results in pay-for-performance contracts with private and nonprofit organizations, in their relationships with local governments, and as they compete for the TANF bonus dollars that will be awarded based on job placement, retention and earnings. …