Magazine article Public Welfare

New York's and Maryland's Waiver Experiences: Diane Baillargeon

Magazine article Public Welfare

New York's and Maryland's Waiver Experiences: Diane Baillargeon

Article excerpt

The federal government should be an equal partner with the states.

President Clinton knows first-hand the significance of state flexibility in administering complex programs and has translated his experience into a more streamlined and responsive federal waiver process. The federal government must continue to be a strong and active partner in developing and administering welfare programs, but the states must continue to take the lead in adapting programs that better serve the needs of their own populations. The federal waiver process has provided the flexibility necessary for states to model programs that are responsive to constituent needs.

Using the waiver process, New York has been able to develop innovative approaches to welfare.

A significant example of how important the waiver process is to innovation in welfare programs is CAP, a unique alternative for single-parent AFDC families. [See PUBLIC WELFARE, Winter 1994.] CAP has been operating in New York as a demonstration since 1988 and has won the Harvard University-Ford Foundation award for innovation in government as a model worthy of replication nationwide.

CAP does not tinker around the edges of the present AFDC system. It is radically different in its presuppositions, its objectives, and its design. For CAP to operate, certain provisions of federal statute had to be waived.

CAP is based on two core principles that are essential for any true welfare reform. First, work should pay. Low-income people on welfare should be given the same incentive to work as everyone else. If work does not pay, if it can even penalize you and your family, then the game is lost from the beginning.

Second, parents are responsible for supporting the children they bring into the world - both parents, married or not, wherever they are, whether or not they choose to live with their children and help raise them. In every instance, this principle must be established and enforced: Both parents have the obligation to contribute to the support of their children.

In CAP, you are not punished for working - you are rewarded, the way people are supposed to be rewarded, by earning it. Your benefit is not reduced dollar-for-dollar against what you earn, as current statute requires, but at a rate beginning at 10 percent and gradually rising until your income reaches a level of about 150 percent of the poverty line and you are ready to begin managing on your own.

This more favorable treatment of earnings is a major attraction of CAP. In fact, CAP only makes sense for people who work. CAP is financially more advantageous than AFDC only if you work.

To be eligible for CAP, the custodial parent must have obtained a child support order from the courts for each child to be enrolled. The state is then responsible for collecting the payments and guarantees a set level of monthly income to each child covered by a support order.

CAP participants get cash instead of coupons for their food subsidy. They and their children can shop for groceries like anyone else without being stigmatized by having to use food stamps. We also give them greater freedom overall in managing their money. They can get help with things like budgeting if they need it; but they do these things for themselves, just like everyone else. And when their earnings allow it, they can put a little away and begin building a cash reserve for emergencies, for tuition, or for any of the things we all save for. In contrast, AFDC puts very strict limitations on such resources.

CAP gives participants more intensive and more personalized case management services, with CAP workers carrying significantly fewer cases than workers in the standard AFDC program. The CAP office is physically separate from the welfare office. CAP offices are clean, attractive settings that help give participants a better image of themselves and convey a more businesslike set of expectations.

In effect, CAP is a social contract that spells out mutual responsibilities: CAP gives participants greater freedom; in return, it expects more of participants - more cooperation, more responsibility, more planning, and more results. …

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