Welfare Changes at State Level Begin; Cities Challenged to Be Part of Debate

By Dimas, Jose | Nation's Cities Weekly, August 12, 1996 | Go to article overview

Welfare Changes at State Level Begin; Cities Challenged to Be Part of Debate


Dimas, Jose, Nation's Cities Weekly


Even before President Clinton's official welfare bill signing ceremony, many states are rewriting their laws in an effort to comply with the new welfare reality that is to come. It is at this, critical juncture that cities will have one of their best opportunities to influence the welfare debate as it occurs in their own state capitals.

The heart of the welfare plan is an end to the 61-year old federal guarantee of providing welfare cheeks to all eligible welfare recipients. Instead, states would receive a block grant to tailor their own welfare plans to particular circumstances. States would run their own welfare plans with several restrictions. In general, welfare recipients would be limited to five years of benefits and be required to work within two years of receiving aid.

The bill approved last week by Congress and soon to be signed by the President goes into effect on October 1, 1996. The new legislation is causing activity in state capitals across the country as states must work out their new responsibilities, sometimes by changing state laws. States have 11 months to develop state plans, but strings are attached to money given to the states beginning October 1. For example, states will have to comply with the work requirements (the percentage of the welfare recipient caseload that must be working or in a workfare-type program in FY97 is 25 percent and will increase 5 percent until 2002), and the cutoff of legal immigrant welfare assistance.

Cities To Contribute

In a letter to President Clinton, NLC President Greg Lashutka called the President's decision to sign the welfare bill as "one of those watershed events for our nation that could do more to reshape the future of the people who live in our cities than any other event in recent memory." He also pledged the participation of local elected officials in the transformation of the welfare system.

Echoing the sentiments of the President himself that the bill could be improved, Lashutka noted three key areas that could negatively impact cities if not addressed: the percentage of the poor that live in cities and urban areas, the legal immigrant restrictions, and the work requirements.

Most importantly, Lashutka called on the Administration to provides facts and figures to equip cities to effectively advocate their position in state capitals throughout the country. Specifically, he asked for a city-by-city breakdown and analysis of the percentages of families and children currently receiving welfare benefits on a state-by-state basis. Also, Lashutka asked for an analysis with regard to the potential impact on sales and property tax revenues from the reduction in the excess of $50 billion in federal funding to families below the poverty level in cities.

State Responses

The majority of state governments were caught by surprise when the Congress passed and the President said he would sign a welfare bill. Many state legislatures had already adjourned and their 1997 budgets were already in place. Indeed, the morning after the welfare bill had cleared the House, John Kasich (R-Ohio), House Budget Chairman, warned governors to "stop bellyaching" when they complained as they began to see the reduced levels of funding in the welfare bill.

Many states will have to pass new legislation. The fact that only a few legislatures are still in session could make it difficult for many to have plans in place before October 1. …

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