Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

States Prepare for Shift in Power Meeting Looks at How to Handle Programs

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

States Prepare for Shift in Power Meeting Looks at How to Handle Programs

Article excerpt

State leaders from around the country are preparing for Congress to turn over major programs, such as welfare and Medicaid, with few federal strings attached.

This week, 4,500 state leaders and policy makers from around the country are meeting in St. Louis to discuss and prepare for the trend, called devolution.

It is the shift in authority from federal to state governments - usually in the form of block grants or waivers - to administer everything from housing programs and labor standards to children's services and medical care for the poor.

"The overarching feeling is, the era of big government is over," said Steven Gold of the Urban Institute, a Washington think tank. Gold is a panelist at the 5-day annual National Conference of State Legislatures, which opened Saturday at the Cervantes Convention Center downtown.

As Congress considers block grant proposals, the federal government already has granted waivers from certain federal rules to most states, allowing them to design programs that suit their needs.

For instance, a pilot project in Kansas City allows Missouri to funnel welfare and food stamp funds to employers who use the money to hire former welfare recipients.

"The states got out there ahead of the feds" in crafting new solutions, said William Pound, executive director of the conference of state legislatures.

States Are Labs

Several conference workshops will focus on how such experiments are going in the states, the so-called "laboratories of democracy."

Tom Brock, of the Manpower Demonstration Research Corp. in New York, is scheduled to recount his nonprofit group's evaluation of welfare-to-work programs in more than 30 states. Such programs typically limit the time people can receive benefits and provide transitional child care and medical benefits for the newly employed.

"Not every program has been effective, but I would say the great majority has" had an impact on the welfare rolls, Brock said. …

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