A Local Agency's View of the Waiver Process

By Buck, Marsena | Public Welfare, Winter 1995 | Go to article overview

A Local Agency's View of the Waiver Process


Buck, Marsena, Public Welfare


Section 1115 was a part of the 1962 legislation to make public assistance more uniform throughout the nation. Section 1115 was seen as a way of accommodating issues within the states that made it difficult for them to conform with specific federal laws and regulations. Ironically, the 1115 waiver process has become the back door to a patchwork of public assistance programs that could almost be compared to where we started in 1962.

While policymakers, interest groups, and others in Washington are talking about broad-based welfare reform, broad-based reform is happening via waivers. That is a problem because there are almost no rules about how you access this waiver process. There is no opportunity for meaningful public input. There is no uniform evaluation process. There is no clearinghouse to maintain records of all the waivers that have been granted and are in operation. And there is no meaningful public disclosure or distribution of the outcome of 1115 demonstration projects.

Section 1115 gives enormous power to the HHS secretary. Because there are no rules about how this discretionary power is applied, it is in fact a political process.

County Experiences

Early in 1986, the nine counties in the San Joaquin Valley started to pull together plans to seek a waiver of the 100-hour rule in AFDC-UP. We are one of the poorest parts of the United States. At that time, we had experienced over a decade of double-digit unemployment. Our AFDC caseloads were growing at a rate of between 7 and 11 percent per year, every year. Tulare County had the highest per capita AFDC population in the United States.

We are all agricultural counties, dependent upon field work, food processing, and attendant industry. Much of our employment is seasonal, and much of our year-round employment is part time. But the 100-hour rule inhibited people from accepting part-time jobs.

It was clear to us in public social services that accepting a job, any job, was more desirable than turning a job down because it severely disadvantaged one's family. In addition to the positive psychological benefits of working, remaining in the workforce is essential to a healthier outlook on life and access to better employment. The longer someone stays unemployed, the less likely he or she is to return to the workforce.

So, working with the state of California, we initiated under Section 1115 a request for a waiver of the 100-hour rule. Thus began one of the most frustrating four years I have ever spent, because it took four years, the hiring of a lobbying firm in Washington, D.C., countless trips by county officials, and the involvement of a U.S. senator and several members of the House of Representatives to finally get this approved.

The transcript of a January 9, 1990, telephone conversation between a county representative and an HHS staff person gives one a flavor of how things went. After expressing the counties' ongoing interest, the county representative said, "Can you give me any idea what the minor problems are?"

Response: "Unfortunately,...our project officer...has been down with the flu for the last week and a half."

County representative: "But you have had that for quite a while. She hasn't conveyed any of these concerns to you?"

Federal response: "Yes, but I don't recall... "

There was some more discussion about what paperwork had been sent, whether it was a draft, and where it was. Finally, when no one seemed to know where the waiver application was, one of the federal participants said, "Let me check into that; it is possible we had a breakdown between us and our grant management people, which has happened from time to time."

They go on to discuss what will happen if they find the material in the labyrinth of offices in Washington and what the counties will have to do if they do not. Then they discuss the evaluation and the sample size, which the federal representatives say "looks good. …

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