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WELFARE: Welfare's Voices and Choices

This year's debate over welfare reauthorization never even approached the
tempestuous pitch of the 1996 welfare-reform effort. But this year's
discussion also failed to produce a final bill. Instead, Congress passed a
three-month extension of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families
program before adjourning.

Still, Congress made progress on a surprising number of welfare controversies this year. Expected flashpoints over marriage promotion and overall funding levels never really materialized. Instead, the biggest remaining disputes between the House and the Senate are over child care funding levels and the rules governing who needs to engage in what activities, for how many hours, to meet work-participation requirements.

Advocates repeatedly singled out Senate Finance Committee Chairman Max Baucus, D-Mont., and ranking member Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, for their joint efforts on damping down potential storms this year. And they sound hopeful that the two can continue their partnership through the actual reauthorization. "There's something special that Senator Grassley and Senator Baucus have built to make it abundantly clear that they can only move forward through bipartisanship and consensus," says Elaine Ryan, deputy executive director of the American Public Human Services Association. "It's quite refreshing."

National Governors Association; National Conference of State Legislatures; American Public Human Services Association

When the welfare overhaul handed primary responsibility for welfare to the states, the powerhouse troika of the National Governors Association, the National Conference of State Legislatures, and the American Public Human Services Association banded together. Their members-the nation's governors, state legislators, and human services administrators-were suddenly responsible for creating, funding, and running the new programs.

Through the reauthorization period, they've been marching in lockstep to maintain their program flexibility and to try to increase funding for child care. "We never leave home without each other," jokes Elaine Ryan.

The state groups say they were surprised by the Bush proposal, adopted by the House, to increase work-participation rates and hours and to narrow the definition of work; they're going to push for more flexibility next year. "We were prepared for discussions on marriage promotion and family foundation, but we weren't prepared for a conversation on increasing work-participation rates," said Sheri Steisel, the senior committee director for NCSL's Human Services Committee. "From our perspective, the bottom line is getting people into real jobs in the private sector."

They are planning to argue that flexibility was a crucial part of welfare reform's success. "One federal requirement on states may not fit every state experience, especially during an economic downturn, where job placements are getting more difficult," says Ryan. "We would want to see the federal government set some broad goals on what an increased work requirement would look like, and then let states figure out how to get there."

The troika was bitterly disappointed when Congress adjourned without delivering the certainty of either a reauthorization or a three-year extension of the current program. TANF makes up a significant chunk of state budgets, which are under more financial stress than they've suffered in the last 50 years. Furthermore, 19 of the 50 states run on two-year budget cycles, which means that, come January, they're stuck trying to legislate a 24-month program with only three months of federal guidance. "This is a top priority for state legislatures because it is such a big part of our budgets," Steisel says.

Heritage Foundation

The conservative Heritage Foundation has assembled a powerhouse team that favors President Bush's plan for stricter work requirements for welfare recipients and a new marriage-promotion initiative, both adopted in the House plan. As the debate heats up, expect the think tank's scholars to barrage the media and Capitol Hill with reports on why the Bush plan is best.

Jason Turner, who joined the foundation earlier this year, has a stellar reputation in welfare circles. He helped design the Wisconsin welfare reform plan that was a precursor to the 1996 federal reforms, and later he guided New York City's program under then-Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani. In congressional testimony last April, Turner argued that the stricter work requirements Bush had proposed would encourage even more welfare recipients to find stable jobs. Some states, he lamented, have used flexibility in the 1996 law to exempt large numbers of their welfare clients from work requirements.

Meanwhile, Heritage fellows Robert Rector and Patrick Fagan argued in an October report that the Bush administration's $300 million plan to promote marriage among welfare recipients would help reduce poverty. The Bush plan and the House measure would fund state programs that encourage unmarried couples with children to consider marriage, and counsel low-income married couples to stay together. "Children born outside of marriage are overwhelmingly more likely to live in poverty, depend on welfare, and have behavior problems," Rector and Fagan wrote.

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities

Democrats looking for ammunition during the coming battle over welfare reauthorization will turn to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a humble but prolific Washington think tank known for its sharp analysis and media savvy.

The center's ace in the hole is Wendell Primus. An expert on welfare policy, Primus joined the center in 1997 after resigning from his post as deputy assistant secretary for human services policy at the Health and Human Services Department to protest President Clinton's signing of the 1996 welfare reform legislation. Primus has teamed with colleague Sharon Parrott, a former welfare administrator in the District of Columbia, on a series of reports critiquing the Bush administration's proposal.

By increasing the number of hours welfare recipients must work and limiting opportunities for work exemptions, the Bush plan would force a one-size-fits-all approach on welfare recipients, Parrott and Primus argue. They note that some states have achieved successes by tailoring programs to individual needs, allowing some recipients to begin their transition by pursuing drug rehabilitation, remedial education, or college courses in lieu of work.

And the center's regular conference calls with reporters will ensure that its critique reaches the public. In addition to Parrott and Primus, a regular participant in the conference calls is Mark Greenberg, the director of policy at the Center for Law and Social Policy, who is also considered one of the most articulate critics of the Bush plan.

NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund

Although it was established in 1970 by the founders of the National Organization for Women, the NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund is a separate organization that's been influential in the welfare reauthorization debate. It seeks to protect women and pull them up out of poverty, and its positions have frequently pitted the group against Republicans in Congress. The NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund focuses on child care, employment and education, immigrants' rights, reproductive health, family privacy, and the prevention of violence against women.

The fund created the Building Opportunities Bonus Coalition in 1999 to activate grassroots organizations in an attempt to modify the 1996 welfare act's high-performance bonus for states into a reward for the states that best addressed the issues of child care, job training, and domestic-violence prevention. BOB has since grown into a network of 300 local, state, and national groups representing women's-rights, civil-rights, anti-poverty and anti-violence groups, and religious and professional organizations. The coalition includes the YWCA of the USA, the National Urban League, and the Child Care Action Campaign. Those organizations employ many former welfare recipients and victims of violence, who have brought their own moving stories to Washington.

BOB hosts monthly meetings in Washington, available by conference call to local activists and the press, to consider issues ignored or overlooked in the poverty debate. The NOW LDEF and BOB hold joint congressional briefings and send e-mails to their grassroots members and the press with updates and pleas for assistance in contacting members of Congress.

Lisa Maatz, vice president for government relations at NOW LDEF, says that NOW LDEF and BOB will work hard next year to recruit moderate Republicans and Democrats to support their issues. Their job will be more difficult because two of their top advocates in Congress-Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., and Rep. Patsy Mink, D-Hawaii-recently died unexpectedly. In the reauthorization battle, the groups will try to increase funding for child care and to gain better access for people stuck on long day care waiting lists. They will also fight the Bush administration's proposal to spend up to $300 million in state and federal money to promote marriage among welfare recipients. "Given the precious dollars we have, we want to make sure they go to the programs that we know work," such as education and training, said Maatz.

National Campaign for Jobs and Income Support

The National Campaign for Jobs and Income Support plans to continue a strong grassroots push into 2003 in an attempt to secure increased funding for education, training, transitional-jobs programs, and child care for welfare recipients. The group's advocates also want Congress to restore to legal immigrants some of the benefits that were taken away as part of the 1996 welfare act.

The campaign, under the direction of Deepak Bhargava, is an influential, national anti-poverty organization with a strong grassroots presence. It organizes very public, message-driven events. It has more than 200 organizations working in 43 states, including the Philadelphia Unemployment Project, the Vermont Livable Wage Campaign, and the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless. In March, more than 2,000 participants lobbied members of Congress, and Baucus addressed the group.

The campaign opposes the welfare reauthorization bill the House passed last year. The group won a few victories in the Senate Finance Committee bill, including, Bhargava says, funding for training programs and transitional-jobs programs, and for the restoration of some benefits to legal immigrants. "What we've learned is that real change doesn't come from Washington, but from the grassroots," he said. The campaign's $2 million-a-year budget comes from individuals and foundations, including the David and Lucile Packard Foundation.

Corine Hegland, Marilyn Werber Serafini, and Shawn Zeller National Journal
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