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Mayors Call For Continuation of Welfare To Work Program at Chicago Welfare To Work Conference

By Josie Hathway

Conference of Mayors President Denver Mayor Wellington E. Webb addressed President Clinton at The Welfare to Work Partnership conference in Chicago, on August 3.

"Let's not challenge the success," Mayor Webb said to the President.. "While the welfare rates are going down, we need more resources for those that are left and are most difficult to place in jobs. As President of The United States Conference of Mayors, one of our goals that we are very much concerned with is that Congress gets the message put forth in your budget that $1 billion is needed to provide support for the program that works."

Almost 2,000 businesses, workers and other stakeholders in the national welfare reform effort attended the Welfare to Work Conference at Chicago's Navy Pier. In addition to Mayor Webb, New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, Chair of the Conference Advisory Board, Long Beach Mayor Beverly O'Neill, Chair of the Jobs, Education and the Workforce Committee, and co-hosts of the event, former U.S. Conference of Mayors Presidents Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley and Fort Wayne Mayor Paul Helmke, arrived in full force to call attention to the unfinished business in our nation's welfare reform efforts. Though nationwide the rolls have been cut in half since the welfare reform law was passed in 1996, the decline has been slower in cities where welfare recipients with the greatest challenges to employment are concentrated. The continuation of the Welfare-to-Work program is threatened in the budget process and some members of Congress are asking Governors to return welfare savings in order to pass the budget, while nearly 4 million people are still left on the rolls.

Mayor Webb also called for a special focus on job retention, which is the true mark of welfare reform success, not job placement. The $1 billion in the President's FY 2000 budget request for the continuation of the Welfare-to-Work program which goes directly to local areas, is specifically targeted for job retention efforts for the hardest to serve welfare recipients. At a time when businesses are facing a critical shortage of workers, WTW is the venture capital program that provides public funds to move the large pool of available workers into jobs and supports job retention, stability and skill enhancement, which are critical for businesses to stay competitive. These resources will not be available after September 30, 1999, if Congress decides not to continue the investment.

The initial successes in welfare reform that Mayor Webb spoke of were well represented at the conference. Eli Segal, who heads The Welfare to Work Partnership, a private organization of over 12,000 businesses who have committed to hiring welfare recipients, reported that his business members have hired 410,000 workers from public assistance since they opened shop in 1997. "The business community has come to the forefront and has been a major player in this effort," said Mayor Webb who reported a 50 percent drop in welfare caseloads in Denver and similar successes with other mayors across the nation. The Partnership's mission is to connect businesses with service providers in cities - public/private partnerships that are good for the bottom line.

Mr. Segal stated that eight in ten executives report that welfare workers stay on the job longer. Through public / private partnerships, companies like United Parcel Service, Xerox, CVS, TJX, (TJ Maxx and Marshalls), Bank of America, and Lowes Hotel are providing mentoring, customized training, apprenticeships, lines of credit, financial counseling, child care, and transportation for their new workers. CEO's at the conference reported on job retention rates ranging from 70 to 92 percent. Small businesses were also well represented at the conference and find WTW funds particularly ideal because of their limited capability to recruit, hire and retain workers. Small businesses make up half of the members of The Welfare to Work Partnership and are the largest source of potential jobs for individuals leaving public assistance. Eighty percent of jobs for entry-level workers are in small businesses.

President Clinton who was greeted by the mayors and Conference Executive Director J. Thomas Cochran upon his arrival at the conference, was introduced by Mayor Daley who co-hosted the event with Mayor Paul Helmke. In his introduction, Mayor Daley complemented President Clinton on his holistic approach to welfare reform. "President Clinton has provided leadership and common sense legislation," said Mayor Daley. President Clinton called for Congress to honor its commitment to welfare reform which includes continuing the Welfare to Work program for the hardest to serve and reinvesting welfare savings in local programs. Clinton also called for more resources for child care, transportation, and housing, an increase in the minimum wage, tax credits for needy families and a campaign to get the word out that working families are still eligible for transitional benefits including food stamps and medical assistance.

Clinton urged, " In every state there are still people who could move from welfare to work if they had more training, if they had transportation, if they had child care. In every state there are people who may be working today who might have to leave the work force, for lack of transportation or childcare. In every state there are people who can stay on the job if they get further training."

The message mayors delivered in Chicago was that not only is the job of welfare reform not finished for those that are still on the rolls, but it is not complete for those who have left welfare - the working poor. Mayors are very concerned that without job retention efforts and access to transitional benefits including food stamps, medical assistance, child care and transportation, many people will cycle back into the system that has a five year lifetime limit. The U.S. Conference of Mayors Status Report on Hunger and Homelessness indicated an average of a 14 percent rise from 1997 in emergency requests for food in 21 major cities. Though people are leaving welfare, their needs are not being met.

Investing in working families is a major thrust of Mayor Webb's presidency. He welcomed the opportunity of CEOs joining with mayors to get the message to Congress that now is not the time to pull resources. "As mayors we look forward to joining with all of you (businesses) in working with the Congress to make sure that they see the light that in this country opportunity stands for everybody and not just some," said Mayor Webb.


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