Welfare Reform Debate - 1/7/02

Smartmarriages ® cmfce at smartmarriages.com
Wed Jan 9 12:40:51 EST 2002

subject: Welfare Reform Debate - 1/7/02

from: Smart Marriages

> Currently, there are 1.9 million men behind bars, and 70 percent of black
> children are growing up with a single parent. We cannot do anything about
> either of these problems unless we reach the men. That is welfare reform's
> next big challenge.

Welfare: What About The Men?

By Harry Holzer And Paul Offner
The Washington Post
Thursday, January 3, 2002; Page A17

Soon the nation's attention will turn to reauthorization of the welfare
reform law of 1996. Many people will share the view expressed by Ron Haskins
on this page [Nov. 13] that the law has worked well and should be renewed
with few changes -- after all, caseloads are down by more than 50 percent.

Conservatives will counter that little progress has been made in reducing
out-of-wedlock births (although the number has leveled off, and teen births
have declined by 20 percent over the past decade). They will argue that it
is this problem to which we now should turn.

Those toward the other end of the spectrum will advance such concerns as the
need to strengthen child care, expand education and training and reduce
family poverty.

These are all important, but we believe another issue should receive at
least equal attention in 2002: helping low-income men. Consider the
situation of minority group members, who are disproportionately represented
on the welfare rolls. As a result of welfare reform, a strong economy and
improved work supports, the employment rate of young African American women
has increased from 39 percent to 52 percent over the past 20 years. By
contrast, young black men have seen their employment drop from 62 percent to
54 percent as a result of the decline of low-skill job opportunities and the
continued effects of poor schooling, discrimination and weak employment

No one is suggesting that funding for low-income women be reduced -- indeed,
in some areas increases are warranted, and some of their recent gains could
well be wiped out by a serious recession. But the situation for men is
increasingly grim. Some of them have no contact with the world of work. A
growing number have child support orders so large that they place a heavy
tax on earnings and significantly reduce the incentive to work. Many also
have large arrearages. And to make matters worse, our prisons annually
release into the community 600,000 mostly minority men with few skills,
little work experience and (sometimes) serious substance abuse problems.

These trends are almost certainly depressing marriage and family formation.
While the determinants of marriage are poorly understood by researchers, it
is hard to believe young women are going to settle down with unemployed men
who have no prospects.

For all these reasons, we think welfare reform now should focus on improving
employment outcomes for young, less-educated men, especially minority men.
Such an initiative would include:

€ Training and employment. We need a coordinated effort to help young men
who are having difficulty hooking up with the world of work. This must
involve the education system (including community colleges), training
programs, apprenticeships and job readiness initiatives, among others. There
is a great need for targeted training linked to local employers and
work-oriented programs that integrate academic and occupational skills
development. These should be supplemented by community service jobs that
emphasize skill acquisition and certification.

€ Child support reform to reduce work disincentives. Child support orders
should be reduced when incomes decline, and fathers should be able to apply
for forgiveness of their arrearages if they pay their current support. In
addition, more of the money collected should go directly to the custodial
parent and her children rather than the state. And low-income fathers, like
the mothers, should receive health coverage and earnings subsidies such as
the Earned Income Tax Credit if they make their child support payments.

€ Services for ex-offenders. Transitional jobs lasting at least three to six
months are needed for people coming out of prison so they can get back on
their feet. These individuals also need case-management services, as well as
other work-related supports. The federal government has started a small
initiative along these lines, but a more ambitious effort is needed.

None of these proposals is going to win anyone a lot of votes, but the
argument for them is compelling. Many low-income mothers are getting their
act together, finding jobs and leaving the welfare rolls, and they are doing
all of this with little help from the fathers, who increasingly are left
behind. It's time we focus on the men as well as the women.

Currently, there are 1.9 million men behind bars, and 70 percent of black
children are growing up with a single parent. We cannot do anything about
either of these problems unless we reach the men. That is welfare reform's
next big challenge.

The writers are professors at Georgetown University's Public Policy
Institute. Peter Edelman of Georgetown's law school and Wendell Primus of
the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities contributed to this piece.

© 2002 The Washington Post Company


> The biggest philosophical debate will come when advocates for the
> downtrodden press for "a shift toward not just caseload reduction, but
> poverty reduction," Bresette said.

Metro and State Welfare reform is set for review

By Jeanne Russell 
San Antonio Express-News


The 1996 retooling of the federal safety net produced reforms that prodded
people into jobs. This year, welfare reform itself may be reformed.

Many analysts believe it was the Herculean 1990s economy that allowed the
new rules to halve the number of welfare recipients nationally over the past
five years. Child poverty dropped somewhat during those years, but research
results are mixed as to whether new laws or the economy deserve the credit.
Out-of-wedlock births also declined, but slowly.

This year, the deadline Congress faces to renew welfare reform falls against
a backdrop of a weaker economy, a threadbare cushion for laid-off workers
and a concern that low-wage jobs don't take the edge off poverty.

Welfare rolls in Texas, as with about half the states, have crept up since
May, in tandem with the economy's slide.

Whatever changes emerge in Washington, the effects in Texas will be first
felt financially, as the state heavily depends on federal dollars for social
services, said Patrick Bresette.

He is associate director for the Center for Public Policy Priorities, an
Austin-based think tank that has conducted research and hearings on welfare

Those watching the debate should follow the dollars, but the more passionate
arguments are sure to center on the social thrust of the new reforms. The
welfare-related question of 2002 may be: To what degree should the
government promote marriage?

One group has pushed for marriage cash bonuses and financial rewards for
couples on welfare or coming off it, while others would put the money into
programs that help children in other ways.

The biggest philosophical debate will come when advocates for the
downtrodden press for "a shift toward not just caseload reduction, but
poverty reduction," Bresette said.

That might mean loosening the limits on how long people can claim government
aid, providing more support for child care and social services, or grading
success by increased worker earnings and reduced child poverty.

Dr. Fernando Guerra, director of San Antonio's Metropolitan Health District,
worries most about families who request welfare because of complex problems.
He named retired grandparents rearing grandchildren or parents of children
with special health care needs as examples.

These chronically poor families need more than a job, Guerra said,
suggesting welfare laws might offer parents of disabled children home health
care or payments for caring for their children.

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