|Welfare-To-Work Funds Will Simplify Eligibility and Focus on Fathers
By Josie Hathway
The continuation of the Welfare-to-Work (WTW) initiative, which has been proposed by President Clinton in the FY 2000 budget at a level of $1billion, is critical for our nations cities and is strongly supported by mayors. Despite declining caseloads nationwide, cities are home to large pockets of long term welfare recipients living in high poverty areas. Continued funding will ensure that cities can continue to provide services to move those with the greatest challenges to employment into lasting unsubsidized jobs.
The Administration has made several modifications to the program in response to requests from mayors and those in the trenches. The eligibility criteria has been simplified from a requirement of at least two barriers to only one. For example, individuals with high school diplomas but poor skills would be able to be served, as opposed to the current program. The new eligibility proposed by President Clinton is as follows: An individual who has received Temporary Assistance For Needy Families (TANF) for at least 30 months or will become ineligible for assistance within 12 months is eligible for WTW funds if he or she has at least one of the following barriers:
As with the current WTW funds, 70 percent of the funds must be spent on individuals that meet the eligibility requirements as described above, while no more than 30 percent can be spent on individuals who have characteristics associated with long term welfare dependency.
In the new initiative, there is a stronger focus on increasing the employment of low income fathers so they can provide better support to their children. States would be required to spend 20 percent of their formula funds on services to non-custodial parents. This can be drawn from the states portion of the funds retained for special projects - currently 15 percent. The Secretary of Labor can waive this requirement if the Governor presents a compelling reason for a waiver request. Each non-custodial parent would be required to comply with a "personal responsibility contract" that outlines responsibilities of the parent and the WTW and child support agencies related to employment, paternity and child support.
Another important modification proposed by President Clinton is that formula grant funds that are turned down by states will be made available for competitive grants with a preference for those local communities or organizations in the states which did not request funds. Currently six states have not accepted funds: Ohio, Mississippi, Idaho, Utah, South Dakota and Wyoming. Resources to Native Americans will be increased from a set-aside of 1 percent to 3 percent. Full responsibility for program reporting for formula and competitive grants will be transferred to the Department of Labor (DOL) as opposed to the current program where both DOL and the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) have reporting responsibilities. HHS will continue to have responsibility for evaluation of WTW.
Under the newly enacted Workforce Investment Act (WIA), the WTW plan would become part of each states five year Workforce Investment Strategic Plan. As WIA is implemented across the country, it is important to tie in WTW as a fundamental part of the workforce investment system. Cities that are responsible for implementing WIA are working to ensure that WTW is part of the local workforce investment strategy.
While these modifications are on target for what cities need, funding for the continuation of WTW is threatened. The U. S. Conference of Mayors leadership sent a letter to the Senate in support of continuation of WTW which was printed in the US MAYOR issue dated March 8. Mayors across the country have also responded by contacting their Congressional representatives to advocate for the continuation of WTW. Cities must be able to provide WTW services to members of their community who are in very vulnerable positions because of great challenges to employment and the discontinuation of time-limited TANF benefits.