States Aren't Waiting for Federal Welfare Reform

Article excerpt

Out of necessity, they have begun their own welfare reform projects.

There is unquestionable national consensus that the existing welfare system is broken. Not waiting for federal efforts to reform welfare, the states have, out of necessity, begun implementing their own welfare reform projects. State human service administrators are working diligently to promote the movement of families on welfare into self-sufficiency. Welfare reform may be on hold in Washington, but it is moving ahead in the states. Nearly half the states are now operating welfare reform demonstration projects. They are doing so because of the opportunity provided under the waiver process authorized by Title IV, Section 1115, of the Social Security Act and Section 17(b) of the Food Stamp Act.

Although states have operated AFDC and food stamp demonstration and research projects for several years, nothing compares to the number of state-based reforms in operation today. Seventeen states have received approval to implement welfare reform demonstration projects in the last two years, and 25 waiver applications are pending [as of this testimony]. Some states, such as Wisconsin, are operating several concurrent demonstration projects.

Increased Flexibility

The waiver authority, particularly under Section 1115, permits states and the federal government to undertake a variety of research and demonstration projects, creating opportunities to test new ideas and strategies and facilitating federal, state, and community partnerships.

APWA supports the latitude of the current waiver process and opposes any change that would limit state flexibility to reform the current welfare system. APWA's welfare reform proposal, released in January 1994, calls for even more state flexibility. Since many states seek approval for similar types of waivers, we believe a more expedient method should be considered by which states may implement their ideas. We call for state-based reform and a modification of the waiver process, and we recommend that states be given the flexibility to modify their state plans to implement changes in the AFDC and Food Stamp Programs rather than obtaining federal approval through the waiver process.

States should have the option to liberalize the earned-income deduction and to increase asset and resource limits for education and training; for the purchase of a home; or for other ways to enhance employability, such as self-employment or the purchase of an automobile. States should be able to eliminate through the state-plan process the 100-hour rule and quarter-of-work requirements for the AFDC-UP program. If a state wanted to disregard the income of stepparents in calculating income and eligibility, it could do so through a state-plan amendment.

We are pleased that the Clinton Administration has incorporated much of our welfare reform proposal into the Work and Responsibility Act. Under the president's plan, states would have the option - through the state-plan process - to implement these policy changes. Both APWA's and the administration's proposals will not only result in a streamlined process, but also eliminate requirements for rigorous evaluation and cost neutrality when implementing the same or similar policy changes.

The waiver process can be lengthy, and the administration thoroughly reviews and evaluates waiver requests. As of September 1994, 52 waiver applications had been submitted to HHS in the previous two years; and only 18 had been approved. Six applications were withdrawn or terminated, and the rest were pending. Oregon's JOBS Plus waiver was pending for 11 months before its approval, and it was modified several times in response to requirements imposed by the administration. Very few waiver applications are approved without changes, however minor or substantial.

APWA is aware of the controversy generated by some of the waivers that states have requested. Although states are committed to solving problems with the existing system through experimentation with demonstration projects, these state waivers currently operate in a few counties for demonstration purposes, not statewide. …