AN EVALUATION OF
WELFARE REFORM POLICY
IN NEW YORK STATE
New York State Assembly
Table of Contents
The Assembly Social Services Committee dedicated itself during the 2005 legislative session to investigating the impact of welfare reform on New York's low-income population since the enactment of the state Welfare Reform Act of 1997, which implemented the federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996. The creation of the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, in combination with the state welfare reform legislation, imposed a new system centered upon work requirements and time limited assistance. While these changes certainly contributed to the significant 61 percent decline in New York's welfare caseload between 1994 and 2004, a good deal of controversy remains over the success of these policies in reducing poverty and promoting long-term self-sufficiency for the most vulnerable populations. In evaluating the success of welfare reform, evidence regarding how families and children living in poverty in New York State are fairing is critical.
According to a report released by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and The Economic Policy Institute in January 2006, New York continues to have the largest gap between the rich and poor in the U.S. The study noted that New York provides uneven opportunities for its workers, with many workers finding it hard to find and keep a quality, full-time job. Startling statistics show that the average annual income of the top 20 percent of New Yorkers (approximately $130,000/year) is more than 8.1 times greater than those in the bottom 20 percent (approximately $16,000/year). Furthermore, New York has the second highest percentage of income needed to pay for urban housing (19.6%), demonstrating the outrageous cost of living for those across the income spectrum. Obviously, this burdens those working families on the bottom of the earning scale most disastrously.
To explain the impact of some of the previously mentioned statistics, a representative from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities stated, "When income growth is concentrated at the top of the income scale, the people at the bottom have a much harder time lifting themselves out of poverty and giving their children a decent start in life . . . today's unprecedented gap between the growth of the typical family's income and productivity is our most pressing economic problem." In addition, an author of the report noted, "The biggest thing is the decline in wages for the low and moderate income people." Strengthening supports for low-income working families was identified as one of the key policy solutions to reversing the trend of growing income inequality.
Despite the most diligent efforts to support their families, opportunities for workers to earn a living wage are declining. The reduced value of low-wage work, combined with the escalating costs of living present a stark reality for many families struggling just to make ends meet. For those who rely on public assistance to supplement their incomes, the path to self-sufficiency is daunting, as the challenges of fulfilling work requirements, obtaining affordable housing and child care, securing reliable transportation, and providing the basic necessities of health care, food and clothing often produce a daily schedule that begins at the crack of dawn and does not end until long after sundown. Concerns about paying the monthly bills on time, facing potential eviction, or being sanctioned because transportation or child care services suddenly fell through often generate a constant source of anxiety for many of New York's families in need. Many reports indisputably show evidence that only those welfare recipients who gain access to higher education can significantly increase their earning potential. Unfortunately, such access is just not realistic for many families living in poverty.
Given these facts and the reality that the crisis of poverty in New York is an issue that affects all citizens, it is clearly up to the State Legislature and Executive agencies to collaboratively establish policies and implement social services programs that truly empower impoverished families to become self-sufficient. Government's role as a facilitating agent should emphasize a positive approach toward this goal, rather than focusing on punitive strategies that ultimately hurt low-income working parents and their children.
The investigation conducted by the Committee consisted of focus group meetings, two public hearings, and a sampling of relevant literature. This report highlights the testimonial evidence presented to the Committee at both public hearings: the first was held on July 7, 2005 in New York City, and the second was held on September 21, 2005 in Albany. It also summarizes literature that was reviewed on the relevant topics.
The testimony and survey of literature are organized into five broad categories of outcome measures that were developed through focus group meetings with various stakeholders:
Evidence related to each one of these categories was presented at the hearings and reviewed in the literature. Some of the testimony and literature emphasized positive outcomes in terms of reduced caseloads and increased engagement of welfare recipients in work activities. The majority of testimony, however, stressed the struggle to escape from poverty for those who have left welfare, the significant barriers still existing for many to achieve full economic self-sufficiency, the negative impact of sanctions, the difficulty in coping with homelessness or other hardships, and providing for children's or other dependent family members' needs.
The pivotal finding of all testimony that was presented and the literature that was surveyed is:
Low-income families cannot achieve self-sufficiency through low-wage employment. Significant opportunities to achieve career advancement and higher earnings must be available.
The difficulties in making ends meet on income earned through minimum wage or low-wage work are overwhelming for even the most diligent workers. Especially for those who work in positions that do not offer benefits such as health care or sick leave, it takes just one incident to trigger a major dislocating event such as homelessness, hunger or severe health problem. Therefore, those who are making strides to achieve economic independence need greater access to jobs in the private sector that pay a living wage with benefits. They also need enhanced vocational training and academic programs to equip them with the critical skills and knowledge needed to become more marketable employees.
Finally, this report makes some general policy recommendations for the future. Since federal TANF legislation was first scheduled to expire in 2004, Congress has simply made periodic extensions of the existing law. Proposals for reauthorization likely to be enacted by Congress include increased work participation requirements, and other measures focusing on work exclusively.
The requirement for federal compliance limits our capacity to enact innovative social welfare policies designed to enhance recipient employment marketability. However, our State cannot achieve its fullest potential without providing opportunities for everyone to contribute to the expansion of the economy and to participate in the growth of our communities. Therefore, in order to best serve New York's low-income population, it is essential that the Legislature respond to the changing needs of working families and the growing economic and social pressures placed upon them.
This project undertaken by the Social Services Committee to evaluate the true impact of welfare reform policy in New York State is a bold step toward improving the State's social welfare policies. The Committee is eager to work in collaboration with others, both inside and outside of government, to take legislative action aimed at ensuring that New York's social services system best serves hard-working families struggling to rise above poverty.
As chair of the Social Services Committee, I would like to thank all those who contributed to this project, including focus group participants, witnesses who presented oral or submitted written testimony at the hearings, Social Services Committee Members and other Assembly Members who attended the hearings, and staff.
Assemblymember Deborah J. Glick
The hearings convened by the Social Services Committee sought to elicit testimony specifically in regard to the economic stability and viability of welfare recipients and those individuals and families who have recently left welfare for work. Data related to these trends are essential in gaining a genuine understanding of the degree to which welfare reform policy has either facilitated or hindered the process of lifting families out of poverty and into self-sufficiency. The Assembly considers the long-term economic well-being of public assistance recipients to be one of the most important measures of the success of welfare reform.
The following list of questions was posed to witnesses who testified at the hearings:
1. General Economic Trends - Trudi Renwick, Fiscal Policy Institute
This testimony highlighted that there has been a sharp decline in manufacturing jobs nationwide, and the problem has hit many areas of upstate New York hardest. The manufacturing job decline in our State has approached 21 percent since 2000. The State's economy has not fully recovered from the recession that ended in November 2001, and what economic expansion has occurred has not yet benefited wage earners. Real wages for workers in the bottom half of the wage distribution were no higher in 2004 than in 2001 - only high-wage workers received a small increase in the value of real wages.
There has also been a clear trend away from available high paying jobs to low paying jobs for many workers throughout the State. The primary industries that offer employment opportunities include health care, social assistance, government, education, and food service. In general, these industries pay less than those losing jobs such as manufacturing, information services, and science and technology, which are increasingly hard to find. This has led to a decline in middle-income families. At the same time, the share of families reporting high incomes has increased more in New York than in the U.S. Furthermore, many of the upstate metro areas, including Rochester, Binghamton and Elmira, lost jobs in the first part of 2005. Without other sources of job growth, these areas will likely continue to experience increased unemployment and a reduction in young working age population.
Ms. Renwick also testified that poverty rates in New York have been declining very slowly (only by 6 percent from 1995 to 2004). At the same time, welfare caseloads have dropped dramatically (63 percent between 1995 and 2005). For those receiving public assistance, the basic grant levels fall far below the federal poverty level (FPL). Since the basic grant has not been raised since 1990, its purchasing power has eroded by more than 50 percent. Furthermore, the rise in homelessness and increasing demand at food pantries demonstrates a rise in those struggling to make ends meet.
"Family Budgets" for families at or below FPL show that families cannot provide for their basic needs at these income levels. Thirty five percent of New York's families with between one to three children have incomes below the estimated "Family Budget" need to provide for basic needs. These estimates exceed the FPL for all areas of New York, ranging from 226 percent in rural areas to as high as 347 percent in New York City and 360 percent in Nassau and Suffolk Counties.
This witness also noted that, according to a report by the Rockefeller Institute of Government, "Leaving Welfare: Post-TANF Experiences of New York State Families,"1 only 48.2 percent of families who had left welfare had incomes above the FPL. While the poverty rate for all New York working families was 9 percent, the poverty rate for recent welfare leavers exceeded 50 percent. The only group that has experienced any significant increase in earning power included those who gained access to higher education. Workers throughout the State without a high school education have seen their wages decline by 13.3 percent since 1990, while those who obtained a bachelor's degree have benefited from an 8.7 percent wage increase.
The Fiscal Policy Institute also submitted a report titled "The State of Working New York 2005: Treading Water in a Tenuous Recovery."2 The following highlights are included in this report:
2. Employment Outcomes
a. Robert Doar, Commissioner, Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA)
Commissioner Doar testified that the work rate of single mothers in New York State increased after welfare reforms began, rising from 54.6 percent in 1994 to 73.2 percent in 2005 (34 percent increase). In addition, for never married single mothers, work rates increased 74 percent in the same time period. Along with the rise in employment rates, the value of the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) rose relative to its value in the pre-reform period. As of Tax Year 2003, New York's EITC provided nearly $700 million in credits to eligible families, over 80 percent of which are refundable and provide direct wage supplementation to low wage workers.
b. Mary Sprague, VIP Community Services
Ms. Sprague, who runs a job training and placement program, testified that job placement programs have a sharp drop in retention at the 90-day mark due to the re-budgeting process that occurs after public assistance recipients begin paid employment. This re-budgeting causes them to realize that a loss of supportive services, such as housing subsidies, child care, Food Stamps and Medicaid, would be devastating.
She also noted that New York City's Housing Stability Plus (HSP), which provides families leaving shelter with temporary and gradually reduced rental subsidies, has not been designed to facilitate the transition to self-sufficiency. Families must have an open and active public assistance case for the full five year limit, which restricts their ability to increase wages out of fear of becoming ineligible for welfare benefits, including the rental subsidy. Since these families are clearly at risk of falling back into homelessness, the consequences of losing eligibility for HSP are potentially severe for many families who would have no place to turn other than the shelter system.
This witness also explained that transitional job programs provide clients with work experience, intense mentoring on-site, and support in overcoming all barriers to employment. These programs provide employers with an incentive to hire because they are guaranteed employees who are better prepared for work and who are receiving supportive services to resolve issues as they arise. Direct placement in job opportunities with strong career growth and wage increase potential help clients progress along the path toward long-term, permanent self-sufficiency. Finally, in providing direct information to clients about the availability of transitional benefits such as child care, Food Stamps and Medicaid, these clients are more likely to continue working for higher wages even as they become ineligible for public assistance.
c. Tanya Thurman, Action for a Better Community, Inc.
In 2003, Action for a Better Community, Inc. partnered with Monroe County Department of Human Services to conduct a small study on the status of former welfare families a year after their case had closed. Seventy-five former welfare or cash assistance recipients whose cases were closed between January 1, 2002 and March 31, 2002 were surveyed.
The study found that the majority of the families did not earn enough to put their household income above the federal poverty level (FPL); and whether above, at or below the FPL, the welfare leavers' family situations were relatively similar. The average respondent had three children, worked 34 hours a week at a low-wage job that paid $9.80 an hour. Earnings averaged about $17,327 a year. Nearly two-fifths of the respondents (37.3 percent) reported their household income between $10,000 and $19,999. Nearly two-fifths (36 percent) placed their household income at less than $10,000. Slightly over a quarter (26.7 percent) of the respondents reported incomes over $20,000.
While a high percentage of families had health insurance, a lower percentage received Food Stamps. Over four-fifths (86.7 percent) of the families had health insurance either through a private insurer or publicly funded program. However, Medicaid covered most (69.3 percent) families that had health insurance. In comparison, only 42.7 percent of the families received Food Stamps. Research has consistently demonstrated low Food Stamp participation rates for those who recently left welfare due to laws restricting Food Stamp eligibility, increased income and assets, lack of entitlement awareness and individual choice.3
Finally, Action for a Better Community, Inc. found that, after a year without cash aid, most families struggled to support themselves through low-wage employment. A majority of the families continued to rely on some form of public assistance, suggesting that a year of transitional benefits may not be enough time to move families to self-sufficiency. The study found former welfare recipients at all income levels in the same situation when it came to making ends meet. Most had not reached self-sufficiency. In spite of their struggles, these families are considered a "success," in that they stayed off the welfare rolls. However, it is likely that without continued support, these families will find themselves cycling back into the welfare system.
3. Poverty Rates - Mark Dunlea, Hunger Action Network of NYS
Mr. Dunlea testified that many welfare "success" stories involve families who actually fail to escape poverty. In a 1999 study of welfare leavers in New York, researchers found that the average wage of workers was only $7.60/hr. In a 2002 study, the average wage had increased to $9.16/hr., still putting families far below what is considered a living wage needed to sustain a household. Most of the families studied turned to emergency food programs on a regular basis to supplement household income.
This witness also noted that in a survey conducted by Hunger Action Network, it was found that most local social services districts do not provide post-employment training programs for welfare leavers despite the "work first" approach of welfare reform. In addition, the local districts did not conduct any type of tracking of former welfare recipients to help ensure that they were informed of the availability of job training programs for workers in the area.
1. Maxwell, Terrence (June 2002). "Leaving Welfare: Post-TANF Experiences of New York State Families," The Rockefeller Institute of Government.
2. Mauro, Frank (2005). "The State of Working New York 2005: Treading Water in a Tenuous Recovery," Fiscal Policy Institute.
3. Brauner, Sarah & Loprest, Pamela (May 1999). "Where Are They Now? What States' Studies of People Who Left Welfare Tell Us," Series A, No A-32, Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.
Greenberg, Mark H. et al. "The 1996 Welfare Law: Key Elements and Reauthorization Issues Affecting Children. The Future of Children, Winter/Spring 2002.12(1):27-57.
While welfare reform policy has facilitated the transition from welfare to work for some individuals, many other poor families in New York face significant barriers to employment and self-sufficiency. To better understand the extent to which these barriers have prevented families from obtaining and maintaining employment, the Committee sought testimony documenting the specific obstacles that remain for those currently on the welfare caseload and those struggling to remain permanently independent of public assistance. In designing social services policies that will truly enable New York's low-income families to permanently rise above poverty and achieve long-term self-sufficiency, it is crucial that we carefully examine the influence of these debilitating factors that often hinder the progress of even the most diligent individuals.
The following questions were posed to witnesses in relation to barriers:
1. General Barriers - Rick Sturm, Office of New York State Comptroller
According to Mr. Sturm, the Comptroller's recent report, Barriers to Self-Sufficiency,4 addressed the following questions about OTDA and local social services district practices to identify and alleviate barriers to self-sufficiency encountered by public assistance recipients:
The audit identified a need for the Legislature to clarify which agency at the State level is responsible for coordinating the various services available to welfare recipients. Once this responsibility is established, the audit recommended that the agency should work to develop the data necessary to complete an inventory of the barriers to self-sufficiency that hinder recipients' ability to leave public assistance.
Mr. Sturm noted that, according to reports by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO), studies have shown that many TANF recipients have characteristics that make employment, and therefore self-sufficiency, difficult to attain. Potential obstacles to employment include homelessness, poor physical condition, mental health problems, substance abuse, alcoholism, domestic abuse, limited English proficiency, educational barriers, low skill levels and poor work histories. The audit, however, reported that no systematic inventory exists to identify the incidence rate of these barriers to self-sufficiency in New York State.
As the Comptroller's office gathered information to identify local social services districts that offer various services and programs, many local districts stressed the importance of a centralized inventory of the rate of occurrence of various barriers in their local districts. If OTDA had data showing the incidence of particular barriers to self-sufficiency in each district, it would have a more effective basis for approving the local district TANF plan. If policymakers had reliable data on the characteristics of the public assistance recipients in local districts, they could more effectively develop programs tailored to the needs of the hard-to-employ recipients in the area.
2. Access to Education
a. Kristin Brown, Empire Justice Center
This witness emphasized that studies indicate that higher education is the best deterrent to welfare recidivism, because it leads to earnings which make the return to welfare unlikely.5 In light of this, the Empire Justice Center testified that New York State's policy of allowing counties to choose whether to support those pursuing a GED or higher education to be short sighted. Ms. Brown reported that New York's limited efforts to support post-secondary education have had impressive results in two pilot programs - Access at Hamilton College and COPE at LaGuardia Community College, both funded with TANF funds. Preliminary results of a survey of 210 graduates showed that all were employed (94 percent full time). Seventy-three percent of the respondents with associate's degrees made over $20,000 per year, and all of the respondents with bachelor's degrees had incomes exceeding that amount (73 percent had incomes exceeding $30,000 per year).
b. Heidi Siegfried, The Partnership for the Homeless
According to Ms. Siegfried, access to basic education and training programs significantly improves the employment outcomes for current and former welfare recipients. According to the Employment Specialist at the Partnership for the Homeless, a primary programmatic barrier to the employment and education programs is that workers are not informed about current programs that exist for clients. The NYCWAY (NYC Work Accountability & You) workers cannot always access the programs that are available through the computer system. Lack of computer literacy skills leads to workers sending clients to the programs they know how to access through the system.
c. Kim Gilliland, Hunger Action Network of NYS
Ms. Gilliland testified that the labor outlook calling for a minimum of an associate's degree does not bode well for most of New York's TANF recipients. Forty-eight percent of TANF recipients in New York State lack a 12th grade education.6 This percentage is even higher in NYC, where 58 percent of welfare recipients lack a high school degree or GED.7 Of these individuals, many perform at the lowest literacy level, meaning they can read, but not well enough to complete an application, read a food label, or read a simple story to a child. Those with the skill levels of a typical high school dropout will qualify for just 10 percent of all new jobs between 2000 and 2010.8
This witness also noted that since welfare reform was enacted in 1996, access to education and training programs has been sharply curtailed by policies that prioritize work first. This is true even for welfare recipients lacking the most basic levels of educational attainment. Enrollment in adult literacy, English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL), high school equivalency classes, college, and vocational training has been drastically reduced. Enrollment of welfare recipients in New York City Adult Literacy Initiative dropped from 14,369 students in 1995 to 3,331 students in 2000.9 The City University of New York (CUNY) has lost over 21,000 students who were receiving public assistance.10
Ms. Gilliland also testified that education is the proven route out of poverty. The more years of education, the higher one's earning potential, and the greater likelihood of staying off welfare and out of poverty. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2002), the median weekly earnings of full-time workers age 25 and over were $536 for those with a high school diploma, compared to $388 for those without a high school diploma; and the earnings of foreign-born workers who speak English are approximately twice the earnings of those who speak no English. Furthermore, a college education increases both the long-term employability and earnings of individuals, eliminating the need for continued receipt of welfare. A New York State study found that 88 percent of women who completed a four-year college education while receiving welfare never return to the welfare rolls.
Similarly, the National Organization for Women (NOW) found that 80 to 90 percent of parents on welfare who completed college got jobs upon graduation and earned enough to leave welfare, with average annual wages of $25,000 to $30,000. A year later, 90 percent of those graduated were still employed. In contrast, only 40 to 50 percent of parents on welfare who completed work first programs got jobs, most receiving only $6.50 per hour. A year later, 40 to 50 percent were unemployed and back on welfare.
Finally, Ms. Gilliland's testimony revealed that it is estimated that hourly earnings increase by 19 to 24 percent for women earning an associate's degree and 28 to 33 percent for those earning a bachelor's degree. According to the American Association of Community Colleges, the median income for an adult with some college was nearly 29 percent above the earnings of a high school graduate.
d. Jeremy Reiss, NYC Employment & Training Coalition
According to the testimony of Mr. Reiss, public assistance recipients increasingly demonstrate very low literacy skills, many reading between 4th and 7th grade level. While the situation seems to be improving for the younger generation because of overall improvements in New York City public schools, there remains an entire cohort of workers unprepared for service-based entry-level jobs. Increasingly, those who remain on public assistance also demonstrate limited English skills. This trend is supported by data from the New York City Planning Department, which reported that the City's foreign-born population reached an all time high of 2.9 million in 2000.11
Overall, the low levels of literacy and English language proficiency coupled with the traditional barriers to employment such as limited work and educational experiences have made it increasingly difficult for the members of the New York City Employment and Training Coalition to place public assistance recipients into unsubsidized employment at family sustaining salaries with health and other benefits. Among working age adults, poverty varies dramatically by levels of educational attainment. The poverty rate for people who lack a high school degree (32.4 percent) is six times higher than it is for those with a bachelor's degree or higher level of education (8.1 percent).
3. Food Insecurity
a. Cathy Roberts, Nutrition Consortium of NYS
This witness noted that New York is reaching only about half of those eligible to receive Food Stamps. Ms. Roberts testified that, according to the most current USDA estimate, the State is definitely not reaching most working families. USDA estimates that in 2002, only 39 percent of New York's eligible working poor were receiving Food Stamps, which earned New York a ranking of 43rd in the nation. Although New York has been able to reduce the food insecurity rate, we still have an unacceptably high percentage of residents who are food insecure (10 percent). Finally, Ms. Roberts testified that the eligible immigrant population is being underserved - nationally, less than half of all citizen children living with immigrant parents and less than half of all eligible non-citizens receive Food Stamps.
This witness also emphasized that, while New York offers 5 months of automatic Food Stamp benefits through the Transitional Benefits Alternative (TBA) for most households leaving TANF, current practice results in termination of Food Stamp benefits for far too many households. Since there is no publicly available data to document how many TBA recipients exist, it is very difficult to measure how well the program is reaching eligible households. Monthly statistics made available on the state and county levels listing the number of TANF case closings and the number of households receiving TBA would enable such information to be known to advocates and citizens. Even without such data, it is known that the TBA program doesn't reach everyone who could participate. Ms. Roberts was critical of New York State for choosing not to provide TBA to households who miss their joint TANF/Food Stamp recertification appointment, even though the federal government would allow New York to offer TBA in these circumstances.
b. Mark Dunlea, Hunger Action Network of NYS
Mr. Dunlea testified that, while there has been a steady decline in the number of individuals receiving public assistance in New York State since the late 1990s, there has also been a steady increase in the number of people who have been forced to seek help to feed their families. The annual increases have ranged from 5 to 10 percent to as much as 25 percent. Under the current system, individuals who leave welfare for work still do not make wages that allow them to support their families without the need to turn to emergency food programs on a regular basis to supplement their incomes.
4. Disability and Substance Abuse Issues
a. Kristin Brown, Empire Justice Center
The Disability Advocacy Program (DAP) provides representation to individuals who have been denied or terminated from federal disability benefits. Ms. Brown testified that by helping low-income individuals access federally funded Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), DAP advocates provide a critical service that benefits their clients, their community and the state by creating an influx of federal funds each time a case is won. In 2004, DAP received $5.74 million in base funding and $500,000 in TANF funds for a total of $6.25 million in state funding. That investment resulted in clients receiving over $41 million in retroactive awards. The state received over $11 million in interim assistance that year to offset the support provided to those who were ultimately eligible for federal benefits.
According to Ms. Brown, base funding for DAP has not been increased since 1996. While the TANF funds provided have been helpful, they have not provided enough additional funding to maintain the level of staffing and services provided by DAP in 1996. More funding is needed to build capacity to meet the growing needs of clients.
b. Don Friedman, Community Service Society
This testimony focused on the issues that people with disabilities face in the welfare system. According to Mr. Friedman, it is well-known that with the dramatic decline in the welfare rolls in recent years, the percentage of recipients with multiple barriers to employment has correspondingly risen. New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA) data from a recent month suggest that fully 45 percent of the welfare cases in New York City include an adult who is either partially or fully incapable of engaging in work activities.12
As might be expected, the population of welfare recipients with multiple barriers intersects to a substantial degree with the population of people who depend on public assistance for extended periods of time. A study by the National Council of State Legislatures found that members of this group were: "generally less likely to be employed, if employed were likely to be earning substantially lower wages, had lower levels of education, were more often disabled or ill, and were more likely to have skipped meals for lack of funds or to have depended on a food pantry for some meals."13
Mr. Friedman noted that another report published in February 2000 focused upon women who remained on welfare after the substantial caseload decline following welfare reform. These households were experiencing greater difficulty in exiting from public assistance. Predictably, they found that these recipients experienced barriers to employment, most frequently multiple barriers, at significantly higher rates than the population in general. This report stated that "These women reported much higher rates of personal health problems, health problems among their children, mental health problems, and domestic violence experiences than do women in national samples. In addition, substantial percentages of respondents had not completed high school, possessed few job skills, reported multiple instances of perceived workplace discrimination, and lacked access to a car and/or a driver's license.14
Mr. Friedman stated that advocates have uniformly been surprised at the extent to which people who request hearings because of difficulties negotiating the welfare system appear to have disabilities, particularly mental disabilities. This is clearly not a representative sample of the welfare population. Rather, individuals with disabilities are much more likely to need hearings because they have fallen through the cracks in the system, are more likely to have applications denied and are more likely to face sanctions for non-cooperation. According to Mr. Friedman, this is clearly because individuals with disabilities have greater difficulty producing all necessary documentation, making it to every mandated appointment, and generally complying with the relentless array of eligibility requirements.
c. Mike Smith, Employment Program for Recovered Alcoholics, Inc.
According to Mr. Smith, over 65 percent of those served by the Employment Program for Recovered Alcoholics, Inc. (EPRA) are diagnosed with additional conditions/disabilities (ex. psychiatric disorders, traumatic brain injuries, physical impairments, HIV, etc.). Coordination of treatment for these conditions in conjunction with ongoing substance abuse treatment and vocational services is essential in order for clients to achieve their optimum level of vocational functioning.
The large majority of those served have employment backgrounds that have been negatively affected by the progression of their addictions. This presents a significant barrier in relation to their work readiness in sobriety. While the Work Experience Program (WEP) can be beneficial in addressing this barrier, Mr. Smith believes that specialized work adjustment internships that are coordinated by vocational rehabilitation professionals are generally of greater benefit in effectively addressing the work adjustment needs of many individuals in recovery.
Mr. Smith also testified that re-entering the workforce in a manner that will lead to self-sufficiency requires that clients have a set of marketable skills to offer in the workplace. The Diagnostic Vocational Evaluation Model (DVE) that EPRA utilizes is central to addressing the vocational needs of individuals with disabilities. The DVE includes vocational testing, behavioral observation, and other activities designed to assist clients and staff in assessing clients' current level of vocational functioning.
Vocational training for welfare recipients in recovery can significantly contribute to their capacity to gain more stable employment. Clients benefit by receiving training that will lead to the development of skills that are valuable in today's job market and ongoing monitoring as part of a self-sufficiency plan. Mr. Smith also emphasized that it is very important that job placement services for recovering individuals receive ongoing support in their efforts to break down societal barriers, such as conflicted attitudes and stereotypes about alcoholics and addicts.
5. Domestic Violence Issues
a. Kristin Brown, Empire Justice Center
Ms. Brown testified that in 1998, New York chose to adopt the federal Family Violence Option (FVO), which allows states flexibility in applying TANF rules to victims of domestic violence and allows states to waive program requirements such as work participation, paternity establishment and child support cooperation, time limits, substance abuse services, alien deeming, residency, and other requirements as necessary if compliance would place clients at risk for further domestic violence.
Since 2000, less than 1.5 percent of the New York State total statewide welfare recipient population has identified domestic violence concerns. Of those who have made claims, only 50-65 percent of these claims were determined to be "credible" by the Domestic Violence Liaisons in the local social services districts. From those select few, FVO waivers were granted.15
Outside of New York City, 11 counties out of 57 had more than 50 persons who were granted waivers. The counties with the highest number of waivers granted, in relation to those indicating danger are Erie (377 indicated, 262 granted), Westchester (137 indicated, 120 granted), and Albany (285 indicated, 170 granted). Those counties with the lowest number of waivers granted, in relation to those indicating danger are Monroe (532 indicated, 262 granted), Wayne (21 indicated, 6 granted), and Livingston (35 indicated, 4 granted). Seven counties, including Franklin, Genesee, Hamilton, Putnam, Schuyler, Seneca and Yates, actually reported no indications of domestic violence and granted no FVO waivers.
Ms. Brown noted that a study conducted by Judy L. Postmus found that low rates of self-disclosure for victims of domestic violence was related to many victims' perspectives that frontline caseworkers could be viewed as skeptical, unsupportive, and judgmental. Because of these negative attitudes, victims would be unwilling to divulge highly personal and embarrassing information about their experiences. In her New York-based study, Postmus reported that only half of her subjects had received the Screening Tool for domestic violence. This finding is consistent with the 2000 study conducted in New York City where 56 percent of the women surveyed did not report receiving the screening form.16
This witness also highlighted the large variations that exist across counties. For example, in Saratoga County, from July 2000 through June 2004, 139 persons indicated domestic violence concerns. Of those only 5 (approximately 3.5 percent) were found to be credible by the Domestic Violence Liaison (DVL). Alternatively, in Columbia County, 75 persons indicated domestic violence concerns between 2000 and 2004. Of those 73 (over 97 percent) were found to be credible. Furthermore, while there is a DVL "available" within every social services district, depending on the intake procedures devised in each of those districts, the DVL may not necessarily meet immediately with the applicant or recipient victim of domestic violence. In New York City, for example, some centers share one DVL.
Finally, Ms. Brown indicated that there is variation in the types and duration of FVO waivers. Although waivers must be granted for a minimum of four months by statute, 17 counties within the State reported waivers lasting only 0-3 months according to OTDA's statistics. This is a grave concern indicating that these counties are likely in violation of the regulation (18 NYCRR §351.2).
b. Sherri Salvione, New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence
Ms. Salvione's testimony emphasized that "Domestic Violence affects a substantial percentage of low-income women. . . it can, in some cases, pose a barrier to work and financial independence" (GAO-05-701). She stated that individualized assessment and responses to women who are abused are necessary to address their poverty and employment options. While this is challenging for systems that tend to default to one-size-fits-all, a case-by-case approach is essential to the safety of victims of domestic violence and their success toward self-sufficiency. Some women who are abused face extreme circumstances and will need special supports and considerations, such as additional advocacy and services, or short- or long-term waivers from welfare program requirements.
While the Coalition and other domestic violence advocates provided input during the crafting of the FVO in New York, Ms. Salvione testified that it has not been a strong success due to numerous implementation problems. Generally, the implementation of the FVO has not adequately addressed women's safety or provided an effective response to the complex needs of domestic violence victims within the TANF system. Statistics from OTDA indicate an overall low number of waivers granted statewide. The number of individuals who "indicate current danger" was 9,360 - and the actual number of waivers granted was 4,585.17
According to Ms. Salvione, improved screening methods are needed to make sure that our systems are able to respond to victims of domestic violence. According to the GAO, "TANF clients often see TANF staff as government officials who cannot be trusted to keep the disclosure of domestic violence confidential. . . some clients may fear that any disclosure of domestic violence to government officials could result in the loss of custody of their children."18
Currently in New York State, waivers are only permitted if compliance with such requirements would make it more difficult for the individual or the individual's children to escape from domestic violence, or subject the individual or the individual's children to further risk (NY SSL §349-a(5)). Consequently, individuals in New York State who have escaped an abusive partner are not considered currently at risk of abuse and are not eligible for a FVO waiver, despite the fact that the victim is struggling to address the economic, physical and emotional consequences of leaving the abusive partner. Additionally, it is a statistical fact that victims are at greater risk of serious injury after they've left their abusers.
Finally, Ms. Salvione stated that since non-compliance with a program requirement is frequently attributable to a domestic violence related issue, screening before sanctioning would enable workers and recipients to have the opportunity to evaluate the situation and determine if a waiver would be appropriate. Research has also shown that many women who are abused are not only in need of waivers from TANF program requirements, but also need supportive services and protections that will help them as they rebuild their lives and move toward sustainable self-sufficiency. Employment assistance, housing assistance, child care and transportation are a few examples of services especially needed for victims of domestic violence.
c. Judy Lombardi, Grace Smith House
Ms. Lombardi testified that, with respect to welfare reform, 83 percent of the 133 women who came to Grace Smith House (a domestic violence program in Dutchess County) last year had an annual income under $10,000. Upon intake, 74 of them (56 percent) were both unemployed and not on public assistance. Thirty seven percent of Grace Smith House residents had not completed school. Another 26 percent had only a high school diploma or GED. Eleven percent were undocumented immigrants. Fourteen percent had substance abuse issues. Upon intake, 21 percent received public assistance and 21 percent were pregnant. All of them had just experienced the trauma of domestic violence.
According to Ms. Lombardi, there is no doubt that housing prices are the biggest obstacle Grace Smith House residents currently face. The average cost of a one-bedroom apartment in Dutchess County is now over $900 a month. The average DSS benefit for a woman and two children is $703. This is why out of the 133 women in Grace Smith House in 2004, only 13 of them were able to find an apartment. In 1999, before this housing crisis, 29 moved into their own apartments. As a result of this, agency statistics show, from 1999 to 2004, a slight increase in the number of women who returned to their batterers, a slight increase in the number of women moving in with friends and family, and an increase in the number of women who leave the shelter after their 90 day limit to move into a homeless shelter.
Ms. Lombardi also noted that another impact of the housing crisis observed was the rise in the average length of stay from 24 days in 1999 to 32 days in 2004. While this number does not seem like a large increase, it has caused a corresponding drop in the number of women who can be served in a given year. In 1999, Grace Smith House served 179 women in both of its shelters. In 2004, Grace Smith House was able to serve only 130 women. While this cannot be said definitively, Ms. Lombardi felt that women have been choosing to stay in violent situations because they know that to leave the situation will launch them and their children into the beginnings of a long bout with homelessness.
6. Access to Legal Services - Kristin Brown, Empire Justice Center
Ms. Brown testified that poor and low-income individuals who rely on public assistance are subject to additional layers of laws, rules, and regulations that in many ways dictate their lives. Whole bodies of law exist - from the federal PRWORA to the state's Social Services Law, to Food Stamp law, Public Health Law and laws governing public housing - that dictate everything from how poor one must be to qualify for benefits and services, to what rules one must follow to maintain support, and what recourse one has if those supports are denied or terminated.
According to Ms. Brown, it is not only the sheer complexity of these laws, rules and regulations that demand legal assistance, it is the fact that these benefits and services drive the very roof over one's head and the food on the table. From seeking Food Stamps and complying with work rules, to navigating new child care subsidy eligibility requirements and re-applying for Medicaid when moving from one county to another, low-income families confront constant legal battles in which, without access to legal assistance, they are placed at a severe disadvantage. The lack of legal assistance could well lead to hardship in many instances as families confront the loss of critical supports without real due process.
Ms. Brown stated that in the area of public benefits, fewer attorneys are available to help people with their welfare-related problems. Thus, despite the critical role legal services programs play in ensuring that the rights of those seeking benefits are respected and enforced, the stark reality is that the system as a whole is overloaded and underfunded. An updated study conducted by the NYS Bar Association in 1993 found that just 14 percent of low-income New Yorker's legal needs were being addressed at that time.19
4. Challice, William & Sturm, Richard, et al. (June 7, 2005). Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, "Barriers to Self-Sufficiency." A Report by the New York State Office of the State Comptroller, Report 2003-S-15, Alan G. Hevesi, Comptroller.
5. Mathur, A., Reichle, J., Strawn, J. & Wisely, C. "From Jobs to Careers: How California Community College Credentials Pay off for Welfare Recipients." Center for Law and Social Policy. www.clasp.org/publications/Jobs_Careers.pdf
6. TANF Fourth Annual Report to Congress (April 2002). Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, United States Department of Health and Human Services.
7. Recommendations on Reauthorization of the PRWORA and Related Legislation (May 2002). New York City Human Resources Administration.
8. Carnevale, Anthony P. & Desrochers, Donna M. (1999). "Getting Down to Business: Matching Recipients Skills to Jobs that Train," Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.
9. Yankowitt, Ira (June 17, 2002). New York City Council Testimony, Director of Adult Literacy Services, Literacy Assistance Center.
10. Goldstein, Matthew (June 2, 2000). New York City Council General Welfare Committee Hearing Testimony, Chancellor of CUNY.
11. The Newest New Yorkers 2000. (October 2004). New York City Department of City Planning Population Division. 12. Weekly Report (May 15, 2005). Weekly Engagement Status - PA - New York City Human Resources Administration.
13. Wilkins, Andrea (July 2002). "Time Limited TANF Recipients," National Council of State Legislatures.
14. Danziger, Sandra, et al. (February 2000). "Barriers to the Employment of Welfare Recipients," Poverty Research and Training Center, University of Michigan.
15. 2001-2004 Statistical Reports to the Legislature on the Operations of NYS Temporary Assistance Programs.
16. Hearn, Marcellene E. (2002). "Dangerous Indifference: New York City's Failure to Implement the FVO," A Joint Project of NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, The Legal Aid Society, The Urban Justice Center, and The Women, Welfare and Abuse Task Force, New York.
17. OTDA Statistical Report on Domestic Violence, July 2003-June 2004.
18. GAO Report: "Prompting Disclosure of Domestic Violence Can be Difficult."
19. The New York Legal Needs Study (1993). New York Bar Association.
Much debate has circulated amongst advocates, caseworkers, agency staff, and policymakers in New York and throughout the nation on the use of sanctions as a motivating tool to encourage non-compliant welfare recipients to participate in work activities. The Legislature has rejected the Executive's proposal to impose full-family sanctions upon households that do not comply with work requirements after a brief period of time. The primary concern regarding the imposition of full-family sanctions is the devastating impact it could have upon children in terms of their material well-being. In addition, it is unclear whether sanctions do in fact serve as a motivation to families to participate in work, especially when so many families face significant barriers to self-sufficiency that they cannot overcome without supportive services.
The Committee was interested in learning more about the specific impact of sanctions on New York's welfare recipients, since they have such a strong influence upon families within our State's social services system. The following questions related to sanctions were included in the hearing notice:
1. Don Friedman, Community Service Society
Mr. Friedman testified that the imposition of sanctions has played a greater role in reshaping welfare recipients' day-to-day experiences than time limits. New York has imposed a punitive sanction-driven system, such that one missed appointment or rule that is not followed (or interpreted as not followed by the caseworker) initiates the sanction process. The notion that sanctions work as a "tool for pushing recipients toward independence" by enforcing compliance is not accurate, since a high percentage of those sanctioned have been identified as having a disability. In addition, a disproportionate number of those sanctioned face multiple barriers to self-sufficiency including that they are less likely to have earned a high school diploma or GED, to have worked recently, or to own a working phone or car. They are more likely to have health problems, to have recently sought assistance from a food pantry, to have a substance abuse problem or to live in substandard housing.20 TANF-receiving adults in sanctioned status are more likely to have dropped out of high school, and to have reported transportation, child care or health difficulties (March 2000 GAO study). Furthermore, sanctioned households are more likely to be African American, younger, and less educated, to have been in an abusive relationship within the past year, to have health problems or to have children with health problems, and to have higher levels of financial strain even before the sanction was imposed.
2. Heidi Siegfried, The Partnership for the Homeless
According to Ms. Siegfried, sanctions are often imposed because the local district is not providing necessary supportive services. Sometimes participants are sanctioned because they do not receive notices of required meetings, either because the local district failed to send them or because of problems with mail in the neighborhoods in which low-income people live. Sanctions are likely to be applied arbitrarily and to people whose supportive service needs are not met and punish recipients with the most severe barriers to employment.
Ms. Siegfried also noted that cases are often re-budgeted incorrectly once wages are reported. Families are often under so much pressure to lift sanctions or re-open cases that all efforts are focused on the many appointments it takes to resolve the problem with their case. This sets off a chain of events including anxiety and time off from work in order to visit the job center. Despite the myth of the "happily sanctioned family" The Partnership for the Homeless has found that the loss of $230 (one third of the benefit of $691) to a family of three in New York City is a significant loss in benefits and is a meaningful sanction for a parent who is not able to comply with work requirements.
3. Jillynn Stevens, Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies
Ms. Steven testified that sanctions are used as a punitive tool to motivate recipients to follow program rules. However, she stated that sanctions also result from administrative errors and typically increase financial strains on families. Sanctions are very prevalent among New York City welfare recipients.
In terms of general trends among sanctioned households, Ms. Stevens testified to the following:
4. George Horton, New York State Catholic Conference
Mr. Horton's testimony addressed the fact that the Legislature has thus far been successful in thwarting efforts to impose Full Family Sanctions. He noted that the Catholic Conference opposes withholding the entire public assistance grant if the head of household fails to meet all requirements. Instead of the family's grant being reduced by the amount of the adult's portion, the family would lose all cash benefits under Full Family Sanctions. They believe that it is inappropriate and unjust to penalize a child for the failures of an adult. Full Family Sanctions will lead to increased family homelessness and family break up. If the intent is to coerce compliance and not to be actually used, then it is an empty threat that should be abandoned. If the intent is to drop families from the rolls, it will prove more costly and require greater expenditures than it will save. According to Mr. Horton, intensive casework services would appear to be a more reasonable approach to gaining an understanding of why individuals are not complying with rules. Transportation or child care problems may make reporting difficult for a recipient. It would be more productive to identify and address these problems.
20. 1999-2000 report by Johns Hopkins - Welfare, Children and Families Study.
Hardships faced by current and former welfare recipients are another important factor in evaluating the success of welfare reform policy in New York State. The most common hardships, such as threat of eviction, homelessness, and energy shut-offs are crucial indicators of the well-being of families struggling to rise above poverty and become self-sufficient. The Committee was interested in obtaining information identifying which hardships families most frequently confront and how often these hardships present a problem to low-income working families in the process of permanently leaving welfare for work.
The following questions were posed to witnesses who testified in relation to hardships:
1. Lawrence Mead, Department of Politics, New York University
Professor Mead testified that, at the national level, some research suggests that reform did reduce the incomes of some poor single mothers, even if it made many more of them better off. These effects were largely temporary, and they are due more to families abandoning Food Stamps, which were not part of TANF, than to welfare reform per se. Since most of the families that lost income left welfare without working, this really argues for improving work enforcement, not scaling it back.21
According to Professor Mead, it is clear that some families that left welfare due to reform encountered hardship. But compared to what? To document difficulties does not establish that they were due to reform. Opponents of reform particularly assert that it has increased homelessness. Certainly, the incidence of homelessness among families in New York runs unusually high. The numbers involved, nevertheless, are miniscule compared to the hundreds of thousands of families that have left welfare due to reform.
Professor Mead also noted that the causes of homelessness are not well understood. The problem has waxed and waned in New York City over the last 25 years with little tie to anything government does or does not do. Whether the City gives special access to subsidized housing to the homeless probably has more influence than welfare policy.
2. Barbara Edwards Delsman, The HOPE Program
Ms. Delsman testified that the Benefits Specialist at HOPE tracks the reasons why the program's clients come to her for assistance, and the number one reason why they see her is for problems with public assistance. At first glance, it might seem strange to put problems with public assistance in the category of "emergencies," but Ms. Delsman believes they do belong there because they affect clients' ability to keep their housing, child care, cash allowance, and of course their ability to comply with work requirements, and their capacity to work. Problems with public assistance account for 58 percent of the problems facing HOPE clients.
The second biggest emergency issue presented by HOPE clients is housing. Specifically, they present with the need for emergency shelter because they are leaving an abusive partner and need shelter, or because of the loss of their current housing. In other words, most of HOPE's clients live in unstable housing which, by definition, can easily collapse. Resolving housing issues can be a full time job and affect their ability to participate in work requirements, and their ability to find work. Housing problems account for 30 percent of HOPE clients' emergencies.
3. Heidi Siegfried, The Partnership for the Homeless
Ms. Siegfried testified that the precarious housing situations that families find themselves in are due to the intersection of a number of factors and related to the astronomical housing market in New York. While welfare reform did not address this, the public assistance benefit levels have remained inadequate despite the shelter allowance increase for families in November 2003. New York City submitted a plan for a shelter supplement, Housing Stability Plus (HSP), with a supplement that phases out at 20 percent a year over five years. The problem is that the supplement is not part of the standard of need and disappears if earnings cause the case to close.
According to Ms. Siegfried, the housing markets in New York City and elsewhere in the State render it very difficult to maintain housing with poverty level earnings. The poverty level for a household of two is $12,830 a year or $1,069 a month. The fair market rent for a one-bedroom apartment is $893 in New York. The HSP program contemplates a monthly rental of $820. At the time that the participant loses her public assistance she is paying 76 percent of her income for rent - well above the 30 percent banking industry standard. Because earnings above the poverty level lead to the sudden loss of a rental supplement of over $500, advocates are often heard to say that the program operates as a disincentive to work.
4. Debbie Lefebvre, former welfare recipient, Welfare Reform Coalition
Ms. Lefebvre provided the following testimony about her personal experience as a public assistance recipient and as a worker who now assists public assistance recipients:
"My two children and I were on and off public assistance for a period of about 8 years. After several failed attempts to make the transition off welfare, I finally made the permanent move from welfare to work in 1996. Here's what moving to financial independence from welfare looked like for me and my children.
In the end of April 1996, I secured a temporary position as a field administrator for a construction site. The assignment paid me $10 an hour, which was more than enough to put me over income for public assistance. So in early May, my public assistance case was closed. I did have some trouble getting back and forth to work because driving 13 miles each way everyday put a lot of wear and tear on my second-hand car, and Children's Services was on me about being in a two bedroom apartment with my son and my daughter because I really needed three bedrooms. My paycheck just barely covered the rent and utilities, so the children and I used food banks to do our grocery shopping. There was no money left over for after school child care, so I swapped babysitting with the neighbor downstairs. In October, the assignment ended and I was again unemployed.
I was forced to put in my 30-day notice to my landlord because I didn't have any prospects for income to pay the rent. About the same time we became homeless, my old second-hand car finally quit on me. So, by the end of October, my kids and I were homeless and without transportation for me to look for work. We moved into a studio apartment with a friend, and I continued to look for work because my unemployment was denied based on my inability to accept new assignments without transportation. Life off of public assistance didn't look much different than when I was receiving benefits.
After about a month, I did find another temporary position making $10 an hour. My saving grace came in the form of a Section 8 housing certificate. I cannot stress enough that the security of stable housing made all the difference in my journey towards financial independence from government assistance. From that time, I continued to work. As my wages went up, I paid more of my rent but still had the safety net of Section 8 paying the difference. Today, housing costs in New York State have risen 50 percent or more; and with pending cuts to funding for Section 8 housing assistance, how will families make up the difference between low wages and housing costs?
Today's wages have not kept pace with the rapid increase in the cost of living, making specialized vocational training or college degrees necessary to secure employment at a living wage. However, with further cuts to student financial aid pending, access to vocational training and higher education is disappearing for the poor and working poor families of New York State. I could tell you hundreds of stories about families I work with who are trying to get off and stay off the welfare rolls. They are not looking for a hand-out as much as they are looking for direction and support as they make choices which are often difficult and painful while taking steps toward financial independence. Who has had to choose between paying the rent and feeding their children?
I will concede that as far as the goal of reducing welfare caseloads by getting more people working, we have met that goal. However, when we speak about welfare reform as a means of lifting people out of poverty, I would say we have not been successful. We need to do more than shift people to low-paying, entry-level jobs which cannot sustain the basic necessities of supporting a household. We need to do more to provide adequate training and education to place people in jobs that provide a living wage. We need to continue to provide transitional supports, such as health insurance, Food Stamps, and housing subsidies until families are truly financially independent."
5. Tanya Thurman, Action for a Better Community, Inc.
Ms. Thurman provided a summary of findings in welfare leaver studies. She noted that such studies typically find families experiencing the following hardships: difficulty paying utility, rent or housing bills and an inability to buy food. The study conducted for Action for a Better Community, Inc. (undertaken in 2003 with Monroe County Department of Human Services) also found families reporting difficulty in these areas: 68 percent, 49.3 percent, and 40 percent respectively. When asked how often such difficulties occurred, 30 families reported having difficulty paying a utility bill in more than 1 or 2 months. Fewer than 20 families reported having difficulty paying their rent or housing bill and purchasing food for more than 1 or 2 months. Thus, with the exception of getting behind on paying a utility bill, few respondents experienced persistent financial hardship, meaning a hardship did not occur in more than 1 or 2 months. Therefore, assistance such as energy supplements, housing subsidies and Food Stamps may be necessary to ensure families can sustain their basic costs of living after leaving welfare for work.
21. Haskins, Ron & Primus, Wendell; New World of Welfare, chap 4.
O'Neill Murray, Kasia & Primus, Wendell (May 2005). "Recent Data Show Welfare Reform to be a Mixed Success: Significant Policy Changes Should Accompany Reauthorization," Review of Policy Research 22, no. 3, 301-324.
As the PRWORA became a reality, issues of the impact of new TANF policies such as work requirements, time limits, and sanctions on the well-being of children received significant attention. Many feared that these drastic policy changes would put children at risk and increase referrals to the child welfare system. The Committee was interested in understanding what impact, if any, the implementation of welfare reform has had on the well-being of children in New York State. The following questions were posed to witnesses regarding the impact of welfare reform policy on the well-being of children:
1. Maria Toro Fenton, Citizens' Committee for Children (CCC)
Ms. Toro Fenton testified that caseload reduction should not be the sole indicator of the impact of welfare reform. Other significant factors indicate that children may not be faring very well in the wake of welfare reform. One such factor is the number of children born into poor families. Between September 1997 and May 2005 the caseload in New York City declined by 46 percent and the percentage of children living in poverty declined from 34.3 percent to 28.8 percent. However, the rate of children born into poor families (185% of FPL) remained relatively stable, hovering at just over 50 percent in 2002 and increasing by 15 percent since 1990.
Another indicator that Ms. Toro Fenton discussed as providing some cause for concern is the increase in the child-only caseload. A total of 35,210 cases in New York City are child-only cases, a large proportion of which are immigrant families in which the parents are not eligible to receive public assistance. Recent reports indicate that child-only cases among immigrant families tend to be worse off due to low wages, little or no work experience, poor health, and poor housing.
This witness noted that child care issues also remain a challenge. New York City's publicly funded child care program provides only 20 percent of eligible children with care and CCC estimates that over 100,000 New York City children ages 0 - 5 are eligible for, but do not currently receive, child care subsidies. Over half of the families surveyed in CCC's welfare leavers study reported the lack of child care as a reason for not being able to maintain employment. New York State's welfare leaver study documented that 10 percent of leaver families were not working because of child care issues.
2. Barbara Edwards Delsman, The HOPE Program
An analysis of data from this job readiness and job placement program which serves clients in extreme poverty was presented as part of Ms. Edwards Delsman's testimony. While most of the testimony focused on issues addressed elsewhere in this report, some troubling child care data was provided. A comparison of the number of HOPE clients in need of child care from 1994 through 2002 was provided. This data revealed a marked increase in child care need between 1999 and 2002. While 19 percent of HOPE clients in 1994 were in need of child care and only 12 percent of HOPE clients were in need of child care in 1997 and 1998, the percentage of clients in need of child care rose dramatically to 43 percent in 1999, 51 percent in 2000, 46 percent in 2001, and topped off at 60 percent in 2002. These numbers reflect a disturbing trend in the need for child care among low-income families struggling to work.
3. Robert Doar, Commissioner, Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA)
The testimony of the Commissioner of the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance highlighted several data sources that indicate that child well-being has improved since welfare reform was implemented in New York State. The first such measure highlighted by Commissioner Doar was the child poverty rate. He noted that, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, the official poverty rate for children in female-headed households declined from 57.8 percent in 1994 to 44.1 percent in 2004. The same child poverty rate for New York City alone declined by 14 percentage points during that same period of time. The Commissioner also noted that the declines in child poverty rates are likely under reported because they do not take into account the value of the federal and state Earned Income Tax Credit benefits that are available to low-income working families.
A second data source highlighted in this testimony was the measure of food insecurity and hunger as computed by the USDA. The data collected by the USDA shows a significant reduction in food insecurity and hunger in female-headed households in New York State between 1995 and 2002. The food insecurity and hunger measures among female-headed households in New York City between 1995 and 2002 was cut nearly in half.
Finally, Commissioner Doar discussed the increase in child support collections that has occurred in the wake of welfare reform. He noted that in December of 1994, 56 percent of all cases subject to child support enforcement had a support order. By December of 2004 that number had increased to 77 percent. In addition, average yearly support for the cases receiving collections has increased from $3,000 in 1994 to $4,500 in 2004. The Commissioner suggested that the child support collection system has changed from being the crude reimbursement mechanism to state and federal government that it was prior to welfare reform to being an important income supplement system for working custodial parents.
4. Kristin Brown, Empire Justice Center
The testimony submitted by the Empire Justice Center touched on two areas of concern that relate to child well-being. First, the issue of significant variations in co-payments for subsidized child care was raised. According to research conducted by the Empire Justice Center, the current structure of the co-payment system for child care subsidies allows for great disparity in the cost of child care for low-income families that varies depending on the county in which the low-income working family resides. For example, a low-income working family in Cattaraugus, Livingston, or Otsego counties can pay as little as $1609 per year or $31 per week for child care. However, the same low-income working family would be required to pay $5632 per year or $108 per week for the same child care if they lived in Erie, Onondaga, or any one of 14 other counties. Aside from the injustice of the variation, depending on one's county of residence, the high cost of co-payments for subsidized child care in some counties has made subsidized child care for low-income working families who have left welfare and are struggling to maintain their self-sufficiency unaffordable and inaccessible. This raises serious concerns about the quality of child care that is available to children in these vulnerable families.
A second issue raised by the Empire Justice Center related to child well-being is that of lead poisoned children. According to a report issued by the Center for Governmental Research in 2002, 90 percent of the children who were lead-poisoned in Monroe County over the course of a year were on public assistance. The testimony raised concern over the fact that local social services districts are providing shelter supplements to families who are being housed in places that are not safe for children. A collaborative effort between local departments of social services and local health departments was suggested to ensure that TANF shelter supplements are subsidizing only safe housing that is free from hazardous lead conditions.
5. Barbara Lindsey, The Eleanor Roosevelt Center at Val-Kill
Ms. Lindsey testified that staff at the Eleanor Roosevelt Center at Val-Kill (ERVK) have been involved in monitoring the impact of welfare reform in Dutchess County and they have taken special interest in the impact of welfare reform on the children of Dutchess County. Beginning early monitoring in 1996 and continuing to issue reports through June of 2000, the staff at ERVK found that child care needs of families in transition were not being met. Their first monitoring report found that 432 children were on waiting lists for child care subsidies. Through this public reporting and work with child care advocates, the ERVK helped spur the Dutchess County initiative to increase child care funding. There is now no waiting list for low-income child care subsidies in Dutchess County.
6. Karen Schimke, Schuyler Center for Advocacy and Analysis
Issues regarding child well-being presented in this testimony centered on child-only cases. According to Ms. Schimke, the child-only caseload has been fairly stable over time, but as caseloads have declined it has become an increasingly large percentage of the overall TANF caseload. A study completed by Cornell, summarized in the literature section of this report, found that the family composition of child-only cases fell into the following three main categories: children with nonparental caregivers, children with parents who are in receipt of Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and children whose parents are not eligible for benefits due to their immigration status. The data collected by the OTDA does not single out these different types of caregivers and report on them as distinct groups. This testimony emphasized the need for specialized services for child-only cases and the need for a plan with strategies to more fully address the unique barriers and challenges faced by each of the three types of families that comprise the child-only caseload.
While much was gleaned from the testimonial evidence presented at the legislative hearings, the Committee was also interested in conducting a general review of a sample of the broad range of literature that has been generated since the enactment of welfare reform. What follows is a summary of the research reports that were identified and reviewed in relation to the same five topics that witnesses discussed in their testimony. This research was retrieved primarily through Internet searches targeted at these specific topics, with a special focus on reports that addressed outcomes of welfare recipients and poor families in various areas of New York State. However, literature that discusses national outcomes and findings taken from other states is also included, as these studies provide valuable information that could be relevant to designing future policies that could also be effective in New York.
1. Patterns of Welfare Receipt and Employment
This report investigated the welfare receipt and work patterns of welfare "cyclers," defined as those who received welfare benefits during three or more discrete periods during a four-year observation period. Some of their significant findings include: 1) cyclers were more likely to be younger, single parents and more likely to lose their jobs; 2) cyclers fared better in terms of employment and welfare receipt than long-term recipients, but not as well as short-term recipients; 3) cyclers had less access to support from other adults; and 4) in a follow-up year, cyclers did not "catch up" to short-term recipients in employment stability and self-sufficiency, but still fared better than long-term recipients. The most crucial finding was that the incidence of cycling increased during the years following the enactment of federal welfare reform.
Overall, the report emphasized that cyclers experienced less stable employment and worked at lower quality jobs compared to short-term recipients. Cyclers' rate of job loss was similar to the level of long-term recipients who are more dependent on welfare generally. In addition, a smaller proportion of cyclers worked at jobs that provided full-time employment or offered medical coverage as a benefit. Cyclers also received $0.71 less per hour in earnings compared with short-term recipients, which is only slightly higher than the employment earnings of long-term welfare recipients.
The fact that welfare cycling increased with the passage of federal welfare reform signifies that the implementation of new work rules and time limits on eligibility, combined with a fluctuating economy, can be detrimental to a family's ability to remain off welfare. Since the report found that cyclers tend to have children earlier, to be younger, and to lack a high school diploma or GED, the implications of economic recession and tightening of welfare work rules seem to have a stronger effect on those families that are more prone to need assistance.
The typical pattern for a welfare cycler is to obtain employment, but to then return to assistance several times due to a range of factors. Those factors include an inability to secure reliable child care, limited access to support from other household members, low earnings or loss of employment. For these families, additional supports enabling them to maintain employment and increase earnings over time could likely prevent the need to return to public assistance.
These researchers conducted interviews with 3,900 individuals who were receiving public assistance and living in high poverty neighborhoods in four major U.S. cities (Cleveland, Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia) several years following the enactment of federal welfare reform. The majority of respondents had worked in the past two years, and approximately half were working at the time of the interview.
Their primary findings include: 1) the majority of currently employed women had strong employment stability; 2) full-time employment was the norm, regardless of employment stability; 3) the majority of women were working in low-wage jobs with earnings that would not put them above the federal poverty level; 4) significant number of workers were employed in positions that offered no benefits; and 5) additional benefits such as Food Stamps, Medicaid, housing assistance, and child care subsidies were not used by the majority of women interviewed.
It should be noted that the strength of the economy was a major contributing factor to ensuring the availability of low-wage work in the earlier years of welfare reform when this study was conducted. Although strong job stability was related to overall higher earnings among respondents, many women interviewed stayed in inadequate jobs with little opportunity for advancement because they could not afford to look for a higher paying job. Many of the women were employed in jobs that were very physically demanding and destructive to their health. In addition, the majority of those questioned worked full-time and still provided care for children at home. Eleven percent held down more than one job at a time to make ends meet.
The daily routines of these women were often nearly impossible to sustain. Some of those interviewed reported rising at 5 AM each day in order to get children to school or day care and arrive to work on time. Then, working another shift at a second job placed even more strenuous demands upon their time. One respondent described how she would be up until 1 AM every night in order to complete household chores that she had no other time to accomplish.
Functioning with such a restricted amount of rest is nearly unsustainable for anyone, but for low-income working mothers, it is even more difficult. The rising cost of living coupled with limited opportunities for professional advancement and higher education credentials prevents many of them from ever getting ahead. Respondents reported that they frequently tried to combine part-time work with full-time employment to raise their income. Inevitably, many of these women complained of exhaustion and increased need for medical attention over time.
Even though the majority of those interviewed worked full-time, most were employed in low-wage positions that put them below the poverty level. Despite longer periods of employment for some, this was found to be unrelated to hourly wages. The average earnings of those surveyed translated to $14,000/year (just above the official poverty level for a family of three in 1998). Sixty-six percent of the women in the survey sample were working in jobs that would leave them below the poverty level without additional sources of income, and 40 percent were working in jobs that offered no paid vacation, sick pay, health insurance, or paid tuition or training. Furthermore, of those whose employers did offer sick or vacation days, many found it difficult to actually claim them. Numerous families also found that they could not afford the co-payment required for medical care, even when they received employer-provided health benefits.
The majority of women interviewed were employed in low-skill service sector jobs such as house cleaner, cashier, nursing aide, child care worker, food preparation, secretary, office clerk or guard. Many of these industries require workers to maintain rotating shifts which made it even more difficult for them to fulfill family responsibilities. Non-traditional schedules posed particular hardships upon working mothers who found it difficult to arrange child care or perform other family responsibilities such as scheduling doctor visits.
Overall, the study's main finding showed that while higher employment stability was positively associated with reduced poverty and material hardship for most of those interviewed, even the most consistent workers were still living at or below poverty. Sixty percent had incomes that put them below the FPL, and almost 90 percent were considered near-poor (below 185 percent of the FPL).
NCSL compiled the outcomes of tracking studies in 24 states (including New York) and the District of Columbia in this report to investigate the employment trends of former welfare recipients.
In terms of employment trends, the report indicated that most families are leaving welfare for work. On average, 48 percent of welfare recipients reported exiting cash assistance because of employment or increased income. In New York State, 21 percent of those surveyed reported exiting welfare due to employment or increased earnings. Recipients that did not exit for work most commonly reported exiting due to ineligibility or sanctions. Most leavers who exited due to higher earnings or gaining employment experienced greater success after leaving welfare. In addition, leavers who left due to earned income reported higher monthly median income compared to those who left due to non-compliance.
One year later, approximately 60 percent of the families (on average) who exited cash assistance were employed. In New York, just over 50 percent were employed in the fourth quarter after exit. However, the report also mentions the issue of current economic trends and rising rates of unemployment as a cause for concern. NCSL found that losing a job was the most common reason for families returning to welfare. In Arizona, for example, 54 percent of the leavers who returned to cash assistance did so because of job loss or a decrease in wages.
The report recommends that states assist clients in gaining skills to obtain better jobs initially, thus increasing the likelihood that they will be able to maintain sustainable wage employment in the long-run. Many states are already targeting job training programs based on the needs of local labor markets to ensure that clients are equipped with the best skills that will enhance their marketability within their local economy.
Despite the strong percentages of those reporting employment one year after leaving welfare, a substantial number of former welfare recipients report being unemployed. While as many as 85 percent of leavers report having a job at some time after exiting cash assistance, many of those suffer temporary periods of unemployment within the first year after leaving welfare. In Washington State, for example, more than 75 percent of unemployed leavers reported having one of the following reasons for not working: need to care for children at home, health problems, laid off, in school, could not find a job, quit job, got fired, or could not arrange for child care.
Although most leavers were earning more than minimum wage, hourly wages fluctuated based on industry and geographic location. The average hourly wages reported in 18 states was $7.41, which does not provide enough for most families to rise out of poverty. In order to permanently rise above poverty, families must be employed consistently and increase their average number of hours worked per week. Most welfare leavers, however, work less than 40 hours per week and are not able to maintain consistent employment. Even so, the study found that most employed leavers were working at least 35 hours per week full-time, although their hours may have varied from week to week.
In Colorado, about one-third of parents were employed consistently in all four quarters after leaving welfare; about one-third worked some of the time but not consistently; and the remaining one-third did not work. This finding reflects what is typical in many states: many families leaving welfare have difficulty retaining a job and often spend equal amounts of time employed and unemployed in the years immediately following their departure from public assistance.
The most common industries in which welfare leavers were employed were service industries offering jobs such as cook, waiter, sales clerk, janitor, bus driver and beautician. In Maryland, the most common employment industries hiring former welfare recipients included: wholesale and retail trade (food service, department stores, supermarkets); personal/business services (hotels/motels, security system services); organizational services (health, social services); public administration (city and state government); transportation, communication, sanitation and utilities (sanitary services and telephone); and other (finance, insurance, real estate, manufacturing, mining, construction, agriculture, forestry, fishing).22
Although the service industry has provided many jobs for former welfare recipients, these jobs pose a variety of challenges to maintaining employment, such as: non-traditional work schedules, low wages, little opportunity for advancement, and few benefits. The NCSL report encourages states to provide incentives for employers in other industries to hire current or former welfare recipients by offering tax breaks or providing employee training. It also suggests establishing collaborations between local economic development boards, chambers of commerce, and social services agencies who serve welfare recipients.
In terms of benefits, the report found that approximately 40 percent of leavers in 10 states had jobs offering paid sick days, over 50 percent had jobs offering paid vacation days, and over 50 percent were offered employer-sponsored health care (although many did not accept it due to the cost). Thus, the lack of benefits inhibits long-term success for many welfare leavers. Some states have begun to offer employer training on how to reduce employee turnover as part of an overall strategy to promote the establishment of permanent self-sufficiency for former welfare recipients. These programs encourage employers to provide flexible work schedules, child care services, and transportation to meet the needs of workers.
Regarding career advancement and gains in earnings, most leavers reported that their current job had opportunities for advancement and received increased earnings over time. Illinois leavers, for example, reported an average wage increase of $0.43 per hour over the past 18 months. New Jersey leavers reported increasing their average monthly earnings by 33 percent over a longer period of time. For all leavers, those that had a "good job" (higher earnings and steady hours) were more likely to stay in that job. In contrast, leavers with lower earnings were much less likely to sustain employment for all four quarters in the year after leaving welfare.
Most importantly, the report clearly indicated that time on the job, education and labor market experience were critical in promoting increased earnings of former welfare recipients. In Ohio, a study of former welfare recipients found that another year of education increased wages by 5 percent and another year of labor market experience increased wages by nearly 8 percent. In addition, steady employment was also found to increase earnings over time. Leavers in Iowa who were employed consistently had average quarterly earnings that were more than 100 percent greater than those who were employed for only some time after exit.
Finally, the report noted that the EITC also helped to move many employed leavers above the poverty threshold. In 1999, the EITC lifted 4.7 million people out of poverty; and in 2001, the average EITC recipient received a refund of more than $1,600.23 The research cited in this report shows that 65 percent of former TANF recipients nationally have ever received the EITC, and that only 33 percent of current TANF participants have ever received it.24 Therefore, the report concludes, it is important for states to increase outreach efforts and education programs to teach low-income families about how to apply for the state and federal EITC and to encourage employers to inform low-wage earners about it.
22. Life After Welfare: Fifth Report (2000). Welfare and Child Support Research and Training Group, School of Social Work, University of Maryland-Balitmore.
23. Berube, Alan & Forman, Benjamin (2001). "A Local Ladder for the Working Poor: The Impact of the EITC in U.S. Metropolitan Areas," Washington, DC: Brookings Institution.
24. Ross Phillips, Katerin (2001). "Who Knows about the EITC?" Washington, DC: The Urban Institute.
2. Impact of Education on Employment
This study sought to validate extensive research supporting the assumption that welfare recipients who increase their educational attainment and improve their basic skills will be better able to secure and retain employment and will be offered higher wages, enabling them to permanently leave welfare and become self-sufficient. The following findings were included in this study: 1) receipt of a GED improves the earnings of those assigned to participate in welfare-to-work programs, 2) benefits of having a GED were greater when the credential was earned as part of a larger welfare-to-work program, and 3) greater reading skill levels were associated with higher earnings. The study affirmed previous research demonstrating that basic skills and education credentials are important assets in the labor market, and that those lacking in these areas are more likely to remain in poverty and dependent upon welfare benefits. In addition, this study highlights the fact that the combination of increased skills, higher educational attainment, and involvement in a welfare-to-work program is most likely to facilitate the effects of welfare recipients to obtain higher earnings and achieve long-term economic independence.
The researchers also found that participation in postsecondary training or college was associated with even higher earnings and self-sufficiency. Specifically, they found that postsecondary participants earned on average $1,542 more in the third year following their last quarter of adult education than those who received only adult education - a 47 percent increase. These participants also received 32 percent less in welfare payments compared to those who only participated in adult basic education.
1. General Barriers
This comprehensive study evaluated the prevalence of 14 barriers among single mothers receiving welfare who were interviewed as part of the Women's Employment Study (WES), which was conducted between 1997 and 2000 in an urban Michigan county. Researchers found that compared to women in the general population, welfare recipients were much less likely to have graduated from high school, and much more likely to have transportation problems, mental and physical health problems, child health problems, and severe physical abuse. Interestingly, they also discovered that the majority of welfare recipients did not suffer from a lack of knowledge in regard to workplace norms and expectations. This finding runs counter to some common assumptions made by "work first" programs that aim to teach welfare recipients these workplace norms as part of an overall job preparation strategy. The researchers did find, however, that about half of the recipients interviewed had experienced at least one instance of discrimination.
Some of the most common problems indicated included: lack of access to a car or other form of transportation (about 50 percent); mental health problems (35 percent met criteria for at least one of five DSM-III-R diagnoses), such as major depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and generalized anxiety disorder; health problems (20 percent); and child health, learning or emotional problems (20 percent). Respondents interviewed in this study were found to be twice as likely as the general population of adult women to report physical limitations, and were three to five times as likely to report their general health as poor or fair. Horrifically, about 15 percent of the women reported being severely physically abused by a husband or partner in the last year - a rate four to five times higher than rates found among general population in national surveys, but similar to rates reported in other studies of welfare recipients. This finding validates the contention that women in poverty are at substantially greater risk of experiencing domestic violence. This problem should not be treated as a minor issue, especially among low-income mothers struggling to keep not only themselves, but also their children, safe.
This report found the following 9 barriers to be associated with a decreased likelihood of employment among women receiving welfare: 1) less than high school education or GED; 2) little work experience; 3) previously used fewer than 4 of 9 job skills; 4) had 4 or more prior perceived experiences of job discrimination; 5) lack of access to a car and/or license; 6) recent major depressive disorder; 7) drug dependence; 8) poor health; and 9) had a child with health, learning or emotional problems. Furthermore, the researchers found that the majority of women interviewed experienced multiple barriers, which served to compound their disadvantages in the labor market and made it even more difficult for them to achieve long-term self-sufficiency through employment. Almost all (85 percent) had at least one barrier, and multiple barriers were very common - 37 percent had 2 or 3 barriers; 24 percent had 4 to 6 barriers; and 3 percent had 7 or more barriers.
Not surprisingly, the researchers found that the probability of employment at least 20 hours per week decreased as the number of barriers increased, indicating a strong negative relationship between barriers and the ability to maintain employment. Of those with multiple barriers to work, only two-fifths of women with 4 to 6 barriers and one in twenty with 7 or more barriers worked at least 20 hours per week.
This study was conducted by The Rockefeller Institute of Government in collaboration with the OTDA and the DOL to evaluate the well-being of families in New York State who had left or been diverted from TANF benefits.
While the report indicated that 63 percent of respondents were working for pay at the time the survey was taken and that 60.8 percent reported employment as the main reason for leaving welfare, a substantial number of respondents (37 percent) were not working, primarily due to insurmountable barriers to employment. These barriers included: lack of available job, health problems, pregnancy, and child care problems.
With regard to health problems, 21.4 percent indicated having a health condition that affected their ability to work. The most frequent health problems reported were: allergies, asthma, high blood pressure/hypertension, auto-immune diseases, depression, pregnancy, and arthritis or joint disorders. Twenty-nine percent of respondents who cited health conditions limiting their ability to work cited multiple health problems. In addition, 12.2 percent reported that at least one child in their household had a physical condition, learning disability or mental health condition that made it difficult to work or attend work preparation activities.
Findings related to child care showed that the average out-of-pocket cost of child care was $84 per week (approximately $336 per month). A quarter of those using child care services had received assistance to pay for the services. The report did not indicate whether the remaining three-quarters of those surveyed were in need of child care assistance, and if so, what barriers were preventing them from receiving it. However, the report did mention that over half of all welfare leavers interviewed were aware that a family is eligible for a child care subsidy once they leave welfare.
In terms of access to transportation services, 93 percent stated that they used public transportation, and 45 percent indicated that they had access to a car. Despite this finding, about a quarter of those interviewed stated that transportation problems had prevented work, job search, or school attendance at some point since leaving public assistance, suggesting that transportation issues remain a problem for many families after leaving welfare.
2. Physical and Mental Health/Substance Abuse Issues
This report summarizes the options available to low-income adults with disabilities and work limitations. The researcher found that in many cases, a health problem or impairment can substantially increase personal costs associated with medical expenditures. In addition, since many low-income adults have a health problem that seriously limits their ability to work, this problem presents itself as a significant barrier to the achievement of long-term self-sufficiency and economic stability.
In terms of the incidence of disabilities among low-income populations, the researcher found that 24 percent of low-income adults reported having a work limitation. Among adults living below the FPL, the incidence was even higher - over 32 percent of them reported work limitations. In contrast, among higher-income adults (those with incomes at least 200 percent of the FPL), only 9.8 percent were work limited. Based on these statistics, there is clearly an association between income level and the likelihood of having a disability, with the incidence of adults who have a disability increasing as one descends lower along the income scale.
The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), enacted in 1990, prohibits job-related discrimination against people with disabilities and requires employers to provide reasonable accommodations for the disabled. Although the passage of this act was intended to ensure that disabled individuals would receive equal treatment in the workplace and equal opportunities to obtain work, the employment rates of low-income adults with work limitations are still significantly lower than those of other low-income adults. Those with work limitations are about half as likely to have worked (39 percent) during the past year as those without work limitations (76 percent). For those living below the FPL, the difference is even greater - 28 percent for those with a work limitation versus 64 percent for those without a work limitation. Thus, for those in the lowest income category, a disability can make employment prospects especially dismal.
While the researcher found that over one-third of low-income adults with work limitations were participating in SSI and/or SSDI, few income support programs are available for those who are not participating in the federal disability program. Rates of income receipt from other disability cash transfer programs, such as Workers Compensation (WC), Veteran's Benefits (VB), and private disability insurance (PDI), are generally low. Furthermore, the researcher discovered that 14 percent of low-income adults with work limitations were participating in a non-disability-related cash assistance program, such as TANF, state-funded public assistance, or Unemployment Insurance (UI), which come with work requirements and/or time limits attached to them.
Additionally, this researcher found that compared to those without work limitations, low-income adults with work limitations were more than twice as likely to report skipping a meal in the past 12 months due to lack of money (29 percent versus 14 percent). Those with disabilities also had more difficulties making rent and utility payments (28 percent versus 16 percent) and were more likely to go without phone service in the past year (19 percent versus 11 percent). These findings demonstrate that the problems associated with having a disability extend far beyond the mere physical barriers to work. The higher medical expenses incurred by those with a disability or other serious health problem affects every aspect of their ability to achieve economic security. These difficulties in affording other basic necessities often lead to a worsening of their health condition, as many disabled adults with no other sources of support are forced to choose between paying for food, heat, rent, or their medical bills. Since the costs of items such as a wheelchair or ramp are such a fundamental need for low-income adults with a disability, many of these individuals forgo their other daily needs. The high need for housing among the disabled population not in receipt of SSI suggests that additional supports for this group of individuals are in great demand.
This report documents the experiences of researchers in applying for public benefits at New York City's Human Resources Administration (HRA)'s Job Centers seeking to obtain information about scheduling home visits for a disabled applicant. The researchers found that significant problems existed in HRA's approach toward disabled applicants, which made it even more difficult for them to access the benefits they need. Although HRA implemented a new method of addressing disabled applicants in 2005, known as WeCare, the findings from this study are still suggestive of the nature of the City's approach toward those with disabilities as recently as 2004. In addition, since a lawsuit has been filed by the Legal Aid Society against HRA on behalf of a WeCare client, there is still question about whether the new process of assessing disabled applicants is truly equal, non-discriminatory, and helpful to disabled citizens in need of assistance.
The researchers in this study found that people who were homebound because of a severe disability were barred from applying for welfare benefits by a daunting application process that even able-bodied individuals have trouble negotiating. Many of those who are disabled cannot physically get to an HRA office to apply for benefits, cannot get anyone to speak with them on the phone, and cannot get a worker to come to them to begin the application process. In addition, it was discovered that an alarmingly high number of poor New Yorkers receiving or applying for welfare benefits had a serious physical or mental disability that made it difficult, if not impossible, for them to go through the arduous process of applying for cash benefits. Therefore, for thousands living in New York City, the application process was not a gateway to accessing needed benefits, but a barrier.
Their research led them to uncover a punitive approach taken by HRA toward most public assistance applicants where penalties for failing to comply at any stage of the process were quite severe. For simply missing or arriving late for one appointment during the application process, HRA often denied the application and forced the individual to start again from the beginning. This would then require even more appointments and a longer wait before he or she could receive any benefits at all. Then, once the application is approved, the individual can be sanctioned for missing one day at a work activity or again, for missing one appointment.
They also found that HRA did not go far out of its way to better understand the reasons why a disabled individual did not make it to a scheduled appointment or work activity, but instead resorted to sanctioning right away. HRA did not ask clients whether a physical or mental disability prevented them from being able to arrive on time, nor did HRA find out what would make it possible for them to attend future appointments to overcome any continuing barriers or limitations. Little assistance was offered to those in need of help in completing the application process. Therefore, many individuals with disabilities who are unable to complete the application on their own cannot obtain any benefits for themselves or their families. In many instances, the lack of food or health care exacerbates an existing medical or mental health condition. With worsening physical or psychological well-being, these individuals find even more difficulty in navigating the social services system to obtain the necessary benefits they need to become stable.
Specifically, researchers visited 47 waiting rooms in 30 Job Centers. Of those, only 13 waiting rooms had the new ADA poster (denoting the rights of disabled applicants) in both English and Spanish posted in a location where it was easy to see; and 5 waiting rooms had no ADA posters at all. The survey also found that close to half of the Centers did not provide basic information on the availability of home visits for disabled persons who could not physically make the necessary trips to an HRA Center to complete the application process. Only 16 of the 30 Centers told the researcher about home visits without any prompting.
In addition, the researchers found inconsistencies across Centers in terms of requirements placed upon disabled applicants in providing needed medical documentation. Workers at 7 of 13 Centers chosen indicated that the person could give the worker the documents during the first home visit. However, at the other 6 Centers, requirements were more stringent. Two Centers required the person requesting the home visit to have medical documentation at the time of the request, and another required the submission of a letter stating that medical documents could be provided. The remaining Centers require that medical documentation be provided before the first home visit. In many cases, individuals with disabilities are not able to produce the medical documents for the same reason they cannot travel to appointments. Most often, they are either too incapacitated to travel or they do not yet have Medicaid or other health coverage needed to obtain a medical examination. These researchers found that requiring individuals to have medical documentation before or at the time of the home visit creates an unreasonable barrier, especially for homebound applicants.
Researchers used data from the National Household Survey of Drug Abuse (NHSDA) to investigate the incidence of substance abuse among welfare recipients in 1994 and 1995. While they found that only 9 percent were alcohol dependent, a larger percentage suffered from a psychiatric disorder such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder. About 19 percent of recipients had at least one of four psychiatric disorders measured in the NHSDA. Although chemical dependence was not the most common problem discovered among welfare recipients, they did find that illicit drug use was more prevalent among women receiving welfare than among women who did not receive welfare.
The researchers also used the Women's Employment Survey (WES) to analyze single-mother welfare recipients in an urban Michigan county to better understand the most pressing problems that these women are working to overcome. Again, substance abuse was not found to be the most major contributor to their being disadvantaged. However, TANF recipients were found to have become more disadvantaged along a number of characteristics related to health and mental health. For those receiving welfare in 1997 and continuing to receive benefits in 2001, about 5 percent were found to meet the criteria for drug dependence, while 22 percent were found to meet the criteria for depression, and 38 percent had physical limitations and self-reported "fair or poor" health. Thus, the researchers concluded that while substance abuse and dependence are barriers to self-sufficiency for many welfare recipients, so are poor education, lack of transportation, physical and mental health problems, and many other difficulties that are more common than issues surrounding drug dependency.
This brief summarizes the issues surrounding the implementation of welfare reform in relation to individuals suffering from chemical dependency. First, the researcher itemized some of the most common major barriers to employment faced by welfare recipients that can often co-occur along with substance abuse issues: low schooling, little work experience, lack of job skills, lack of work readiness, employer discrimination, physical and mental health problems, family stress, and domestic violence. These were identified by Ariel Kalil at the University of Michigan's Program on Poverty and Social Welfare Policy. For many, the combination of substance abuse issues and another major barrier greatly diminishes the chances of employment success. The brief cites a study that found welfare recipients having substance dependence and any one or two of the other employment obstacles had a less than 60 percent chance of working more than 20 hours a week.25
The author also noted a study based on data from the 1992 National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey (NLAES) that estimated 17.9 percent of welfare recipients were dependent on alcohol or drugs, compared to 8.9 percent of non-recipients.26 While inconsistencies exist across studies in estimating the exact proportion of welfare recipients who face substance abuse issues as a significant barrier to employment and self-sufficiency, some studies have reported rates as high as 27 percent to 39 percent of women receiving public assistance that possess substance abuse problems.27
Even if substance abuse is not the most prevalent barrier among welfare recipients, caseworkers report that substance abuse is the most difficult barrier to overcome in making the transition from welfare to permanent employment (especially when it exists in conjunction with other barriers). Welfare leavers who have substance abuse problems are especially likely to return to the welfare rolls, since their drug use often interferes with the daily obligations of work. Access to treatment is essential for many of those individuals to permanently manage their substance abuse problem. However, in most states not enough treatment options or resources are available to adequately confront the problem. Lack of access is further complicated by poverty, limited health insurance coverage, and insufficient capacity of publicly funded treatment services. Women with young children are especially likely to need services, but be underserved.28 While the federal law has been expanded to allow TANF funds and Welfare-to-Work grants to cover some services for those with substance abuse problems, the use of these funds is restricted to non-medical services only.
25. Danziger, Sandra, et al. (February 2002). "Barriers to the Employment of Welfare Recipients," (revised), Poverty Research and Training Center, University of Michigan.
26. Grant, Bridget F. & Dawson, Deborah A. (1996). "Alcohol and Drug Use, Abuse and Dependence among Welfare Recipients," American Journal of Public Health, 86: 1450-1454. 27. Morgenstern, Jon, et al. (January 2001). "Intensive Case Management Improves Welfare Clients' Rates of Entry and Retention in Substance Abuse Treatment," Research Notes, Office of the Secretary for Policy and Evaluation, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Washington DC. 28. National Drug Control Strategy (2001). Office of National Drug Control Policy, Annual Report, Executive Office of the President of the United States.
3. Access to Education
This report presents evidence of the fact that education matters in determining long-term employment outcomes for welfare recipients. According to the authors, welfare leavers' annual earnings are typically low and only grow modestly over time, largely due to their low skill levels and lack of educational credentials. The skills most highly demanded by employers are not seen in many of those receiving welfare, which creates one of the most significant barriers to success. One study cited in the report found that 60 percent of all welfare recipients and 81 percent of those without recent work experience had low basic skills. This was substantially higher than the general population of full-time employed individuals.
Furthermore, the report indicates that the educational attainment of mothers receiving welfare is well below average. According to government data cited by the authors, 45 percent of the mothers who received TANF benefits in 1999 had completed high school or received a GED in comparison to 87 percent of all American women. In general, welfare recipients were found to have lower skills than other adults with the same level of formal education. Given their low skills and educational levels, welfare recipients are at a disadvantage in the labor market. As evidence of this fact, another study cited in this report noted that 52 percent of those who left welfare in 1999 had incomes below the poverty level.
Welfare leavers are more likely to be found in the lowest-paying industries with little opportunity for advancement or wage increases over time. More than 40 percent of the jobs held by welfare recipients were in service occupations and 17 percent were in administrative or clerical positions, which are traditionally low-paying fields. For women, the dilemma is even worse, since occupations such as machinist, equipment repairer, and truck driver, offering workers with lower educational credentials the greatest wage potential, are most often held by men. Therefore, mothers on welfare face the double burden of having to provide care for children, while at the same time confront a job market that is often most discriminatory based on gender in the lower-wage industries. According to 1999 Census data cited in this report, the more education a woman acquires, the more she earns. This may be especially critical for women on welfare, who need an education to obtain higher paying work.
The report also cited evidence that wages were more likely to increase for former welfare recipients who began working in higher paying jobs, as opposed to those in the lowest paying fields. The average wages of those in the bottom fourth of the wage distribution did not increase at all over a five year time period, as opposed to those in the top fourth whose wages grew significantly over the same period. Those welfare recipients who were not working at all were found to have significantly lower education levels compared to those who were working, further demonstrating the degree to which education plays a role in determining individuals' marketability to employers.
Finally, this report made the important point of noting that barriers still exist for many even after leaving welfare, especially among those who leave without finding employment. These barriers also increase the risk that individuals will return to the welfare rolls at some point in the future. Clearly the study indicates that basic skills and education credentials are essential for employment and particularly for advancing to higher paying jobs. Those who are not working, regardless of whether they are receiving welfare, are most likely to face difficulties in achieving and maintaining self-sufficiency due to low education and skill levels.
4. Domestic Violence Issues
This report examined research on the prevalence of domestic violence among women on welfare and the implications of domestic violence on children's well-being and marriage. The author found that the high incidence of domestic violence among women on welfare was confirmed by numerous studies. Within the general population, about 22 percent of women have experienced domestic violence. However, this figure doubles when applied to women on welfare.29 In addition, many of the studies evaluated by the author document a high prevalence of physical and sexual abuse during childhood.
A California study known as the CalWORKS research project, which tracked 880 female participants in two California counties, reported the highest rates of domestic violence for women on welfare. Eighty percent had experienced domestic violence sometime during their lifetime.30 Given this higher prevalence of domestic violence among welfare recipients, there is an indication that poverty may increase a woman's vulnerability to abuse. In many cases, women may use welfare strategically as a response to abuse by their partners.31 However, disclosure of domestic violence is generally low, with state data indicating that only between 5 and 10 percent of the caseload disclose abuse. These low rates have been attributed to victims' feelings of shame, fear or lack of trust in the social services system.
Other reports have found that domestic violence is higher among younger women between the ages of 16 and 24, implying that poor young mothers may be especially vulnerable to abuse. Furthermore, women on welfare who experience domestic violence have higher rates of mental and physical health problems, especially depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Research has also linked domestic violence to homelessness, since many victims who escape their abuser do not have sufficient financial resources to support themselves on their own. For these domestic violence victims, welfare benefits provide a crucial source of financial resources that can enable them to live independently without becoming homeless. A range of studies indicate that 18 to 50 percent of homeless women and children report having left their homes due to domestic abuse.32 (National Coalition for the Homeless. (1999). Domestic violence and homelessness (NCH Fact Sheet No. 8). Washington,DC: National Coalition for the Homeless).
29. Lyon, E. (2000). "Welfare, Poverty and Abused Women: New Research and its Implications," Building Comprehensive Solutions to Domestic Violence No. 10, Harrisburg, PA: Pennsylvania Coalition Against Domestic Violence, National Resource Center on Domestic Violence.
30. CalWORKS Project (2002). "Welfare Reform: Personal Stories of Four Women who have Faced Alcohol or Other Drug, Mental Health and Domestic Violence Issues," Policy and Practice Brief No. 4, Sacramento, CA: California Institute for Mental Health.
31. Lyon, E. (1998). "Poverty, Welfare, and Battered Women: What Does the Research Tell Us?" Welfare and Domestic Violence Technical Assistance Initiative, Harrisburg, PA: National Resource Center on Domestic Violence.
32. Domestic Violence and Homelessness (1999). National Coalition for the Homeless, NCH Fact Sheet No. 8, Washington, DC: National Coalition for the Homeless
The authors of this report discussed the impact of sanctions upon welfare recipients' daily experiences. They note that while the PRWORA's main emphasis focused on placing public assistance recipients in work, sanctions have actually played a more significant role in the lives of most clients. Their findings are comparable to other data that shows sanctions disproportionately affect the most vulnerable families with the greatest barriers to employment and self-sufficiency. In addition, the authors found that there is great variation in state sanction policies, with most states enacting sanctions policies that are more stringent than the partial sanctions that are required by federal law for non-compliance with federal work rules.
As of 2002, 36 states had imposed full-family sanctions, and 18 of those had imposed full-family sanctions on the first instance of non-compliance (this number has grown to 42 states with full-family sanctions since then). New York is among one of several large states that has not imposed full-family sanctions. In seven states, repeated or continued non-compliance could result in the imposition of a lifetime sanction on eligibility for public assistance. These researchers also found that nearly all states have specific criteria that constitute "good cause" for non-compliance. However, there is still substantial discretion offered to states and localities in determining whether a family has demonstrated good cause to avoid the imposition of a sanction. The recent trend toward stricter enforcement of work requirements is likely to generate more sanctioning.
In many cases, sanctions have been imposed on clients who do not understand the program rules or who have not received proper communication from the social services agency informing them of all requirements they are expected to fulfill. In other instances, clients who have good cause for non-compliance are unable to effectively demonstrate it to prevent the agency from imposing the sanction. Often, sanction notices sent to clients are confusing or inaccurate, assuming that notices are sent to the correct address and received early enough to provide adequate time for compliance.
Overall, the authors found that sanctioned clients have lower levels of education and are more likely than non-sanctioned clients to face substantial barriers to employment such as physical and mental health problems. Also, sanctioned welfare leavers have lower employment rates and earnings compared to former welfare recipients who left for other reasons. In general, the report highlights the fact that although sanctions are effective for certain groups of recipients, such as those who are working "off the books," they usually do not provide motivation for clients facing multiple barriers to employment. Some states and localities have developed post-sanction outreach programs (such as the NYC Human Resource Administration's (HRA) Intensive Services Center) to identify obstacles to participation and try to re-engage clients in work activities. While these initiatives may be beneficial, they are likely to be effective only if the agency plays an active role in linking clients to supportive services and work opportunities that will enable them to overcome continual barriers to sustainable employment.
This report summarizes the outcomes of the implementation of welfare reform policy specifically within two communities in New York City - Harlem and the Lower East Side. A significant portion of their findings addressed the impact of sanctions. The researchers found that welfare participants were frequently sanctioned due to administrative errors, which indicates that not all sanctions are imposed due to non-compliant behavior. Furthermore, the report emphasizes the fact that in nearly all cases, sanctions exacerbate the economic fragility of families who are already living below the federal poverty level.
In addition, the report documents the swiftness with which benefits are reduced when a sanction is imposed as being incredibly problematic for families in their attempt to achieve self-sufficiency. Similar to other studies of sanctioned individuals, the researchers found that sanctioned clients often face tremendous obstacles to meeting their basic needs. In many cases, wages in the job market are not sufficient to make up for the loss in benefits. Those who are sanctioned due to missing an appointment or administrative error, as opposed to non-compliance with work requirements, face the most difficulty. Many of these individuals are already engaged in full-time employment. However, their meager earnings combined with the high cost of living do not provide adequate income to pay the monthly bills.
The overall rate of sanctioning was very high among the general welfare caseload. Fifty four percent of the sample had their benefits cut within the previous year and 35 percent had been sanctioned. In addition, the researchers also found racial and gender differences in the rates of sanctioning, with higher rates of Blacks, Latinos and women receiving sanctions. These findings have been substantiated by numerous other accounts of the distribution of sanctions.
Many participants in the study did not receive proper information from the social services agency in regard to the status of their case. Some welfare clients who participated in this study had the perception that case closures occurred as a result of non-payment of medical bills. Others reported that they were not informed by the agency or given the opportunity for conciliation or fair hearing before a sanction was imposed. Significant racial disparities were discovered again in regard to clients' receipt of notice of an impending sanction or benefit reduction, with Blacks and Latinos reporting to have received a letter informing them of their situation less frequently than white clients.
This report highlights the impact of sanctions upon welfare recipients in three major U.S. cities. The researchers found that those with children who had very complex and challenging lives were more likely to have received a partial or full loss of benefits. They also found that individuals were sanctioned primarily due to missing an appointment, failing to produce required documents, or failing to provide enough information about fathers, as opposed to an outright refusal to comply with work rules. Those who were sanctioned due to procedural reasons were more vulnerable and more likely to experience numerous hardships compared to other families who had received TANF benefits in the last two years.
Similar to other studies of sanctioned households, this study found that those who did lose all or part of their benefits due to non-compliance with program rules were less like to have a high school degree or GED, more likely to have fair or poor health, more likely to have relied on food pantries or to have gone hungry, less likely to have a working phone or automobile, more likely to have a substance abuse issue, and more likely to live in poor quality housing or dangerous neighborhoods. Of those who were sanctioned, about two-thirds reported that they had tried to have their benefits reinstated. Half of those who reported a partial or full loss were able to get their full benefits back.
Based on their findings, the researchers concluded that instances of non-compliance should not automatically trigger the imposition of a sanction. Rather, they should be used as an indicator of significant barriers and challenges that a particular family faces in attempting to achieve self-sufficiency.
This researcher studied trends in sanction policy outcomes detected by numerous reports and specifically in Pennsylvania. The report cites evidence that harsh sanction policies disproportionately penalize and burden recipients who are already experiencing multiple barriers to work. She found that most research suggests that sanctions do not lead to compliance with work requirements, but instead result in creating yet another barrier to employment and self-sufficiency for many sanctioned families. In addition, noncompliance with work rules typically results from factors other than the individual's lack of motivation to comply. Rather than encourage families to enter the workforce, sanctions were more likely to disrupt job skills development training or any other supportive program that would have helped the client become employable. Sanctions also reduced the amount of resources available to families already struggling with the greatest barriers to work, making it even more difficult for them to comply.
The report cites a March 2000 Report conducted by the GAO which found that "whether sanctions actually occur depends to some degree on caseworkers' efforts and steps that TANF family members take to resolve noncompliance."33 This disturbing fact highlights the large discretionary power of social services agencies in determining the practical use of sanctions and their impact on the lives of welfare recipients. Therefore, despite each state's uniform sanction policies, clients themselves are treated differently depending upon their unique work and family circumstances and their relationship with the caseworker. These dynamics could vary from county to county, since each locality designs its own training program for caseworkers and approach toward engaging clients in work requirements.
Similar to other studies, Memon found that sanctioned families are more likely than other families receiving TANF to experience multiple barriers to work, such as having a disability or medical condition, lacking stable housing, and lacking education. Many also struggle to provide care for a sick or disabled child. The lack of education itself was likely to be a barrier for clients in understanding program rules, the consequences of noncompliance, and their ability to comply with work requirements at all. Memon cited another report which indicated that non-working TANF recipients were nearly 50 percent more likely than working former TANF recipients to have two or more problems with their housing conditions.34
The report concludes that the ultimate effect of the sanction process is not to move the most challenged families into the workforce, but to penalize the most challenged TANF families until they are no longer on the welfare caseload. A summary of research on full-family sanctions provides evidence these, like partial sanctions, are also ineffective in encouraging compliance with work requirements. Instead, the total loss of benefits for families to pay for housing and work supports such as child care and transportation makes it nearly impossible for them to meet the demands of employment necessary to obtain and sustain earned income through work. Finally, this study noted that full-family sanctions increase child poverty by eliminating the only source of income available to children whose parents are in sanctioned status.
33. Welfare Reform: State Sanction Policies and Number of Families Affected (March 2000). U.S. General Accounting Office Report to Congressional Requesters.
34. Goldberg, Heidi (January 22, 2002). Improving TANF Outcomes for Families with Barriers to Employment, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. http://www.cbpp.org/1-22-02tanf3.pdf
A sampling of the literature on hardship indicators was analyzed in order to gain an understanding of the plight of public assistance recipients and their lives after they leave welfare. It is important to study the quality of welfare leavers' lives so that we may evaluate the present welfare system and perhaps come to some conclusions regarding possible program focus for the future.
This report attempts to document the extent to which families face hardships as they move from welfare to work. The authors compare how different types of families experience hardship. They also characterize the difference between critical hardship and serious hardship.
Specifically, the authors looked at: a) working-poor families; b) families that currently receive welfare; c) families that have recently left welfare and d) families that had left welfare over one year earlier. The method used in this report expands on the notion of material hardships which are labeled critical or serious. "Critical hardships explain the extent to which families fail to meet their basic needs. In comparison, serious hardships explain the extent to which families are lacking in the goods, services, and financial ability to maintain employment and a stable, healthy home environment. The concept of serious hardships includes lack of access to regular and preventative medical care, low-quality and insufficient-quality child care, the inability to pay housing bills, and unreliable transportation."
The authors utilize two national surveys that ask questions about family hardships as well as welfare use. These are: the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP) and the National Survey of American Families (NSAF). "These surveys ask families questions about whether they 'go without' and experience material deprivation. This report uses both the SIPP and the NSAF in its analysis." The four hardship areas included in the survey are: food insecurity, housing problems, insufficient access to health care, and inadequate child care.
"Measuring the hardships these families face is an important indicator of welfare reform's success. Given low unemployment and growing wages among the lowest paid workers, families who left welfare in the late 1990's should have been better off than those who left in the mid-1990s. Unfortunately, this is not the case: the level of hardships among those who left the welfare rolls did not improve in 1997 or 1999.
The authors of this report review the work in nine hardship indexes included in their study. They examine the specific indicators researchers have included in their hardship indexes and distinguish between those indicators that were drawn from the SIPP and those that were not.
While all nine indexes did not contain identical measures, they were similar to the SIPP and appeared to identify material hardship in families with children. "Broadly speaking, the results indicate that these measures correspond to general notions about hardship. That is, the measures are related to unfavorable economic circumstances (e.g., low-income and limited assets) and suggest that families oftentimes simultaneously experience multiple hardships. Moreover, the prevalence of certain hardships appears to meaningfully distinguish between groups of households that are economically better or worse off (e.g., single adult versus married couple households)." The results can be summarized as follows:
The findings also suggest that families with children who are in need generally experience multiple hardships. In the aggregate, each of the basic needs hardships is a strong predictor of other types of hardships, and even stronger patterns emerge among households with incomes under 100 percent FPL.
It should also be noted that a disturbing footnote in this review states that a number of studies or surveys of research on welfare reform mention the ethnic and racial disparities that exist in recipients' ability to move from welfare to work.
This report found that race is a significant factor in employment rates, access to health care, and levels of food insecurity. The authors found that White subjects were two times more likely to be employed than Black subjects and that White subjects reported the fewest work-related barriers. Based on self-reports, Blacks and Latinos were twice as likely to have lost health benefits because of a job loss or sanction. In addition, White subjects reported higher rates of seeking medical treatment. However, White subjects did not report the use of the emergency room for their last doctor's visit while 18 percent of Black subjects and 15 percent of Latino subjects had used the emergency room for their last doctor's visit. Finally, the rate of food insecurity among Black subjects was nearly twice the rate of food insecurity among White subjects and it was nearly 60 percent higher than the food insecurity rate of Latinos.
This technical paper of the Devolution Initiative of the W.K. Kellogg Foundation adds evidence to the notion of racial disparity in outcomes for TANF recipients. "While the size of the welfare rolls has fallen nationwide, racial and ethnic disparities exist in the movement from welfare to work. From FY 1996 to FY 1999, for example, the white percentage of the welfare caseload fell, while the black and Hispanic percentages both rose slightly."
The paper further notes that "A General Accounting Office (GAO) study found that TANF recipients found it more difficult to enter the workforce where one or more work-impeding characteristics existed, a fact which substantiated the finding of another study by an Ohio State University researcher, that members of racial and ethnic minority groups are 'significantly disadvantaged' in employment opportunities in the TANF system."
In this report, data is presented which indicates a racial and ethnic shift in the composition of welfare recipients after the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA). "Although non-Hispanic whites constitute the largest share of low-income single parent household heads in both time periods (45 percent pre-PRWORA and 42 percent post-PRWORA), the share of non-Hispanic white welfare recipients declines significantly over the two time periods (34 vs. 24 percent post-PRWORA). Conversely, the proportion of Hispanic welfare recipients undergoes a dramatic increase (20 vs. 30 percent post-PRWORA). Interestingly, while the representation of blacks among welfare recipients remains stable over this time period (at roughly 43 percent), they are the only racial group to experience an increase in the percentage of non-welfare recipients who remain low-income between the two time periods (29 vs. 34 percent past-PRWORA). These findings are consistent with concerns that white single parents may be more able to move out of the low-income population than single parents from racial/ethnic minority groups and support calls for closer monitoring of the racial/ethnic impacts of welfare reform and the need to address racial/ethnic inequities in welfare policy and in the labor market."
While race/ethnicity is not a hardship indicator in the sense of material hardships discussed here, it certainly presents a very real characteristic of individuals who have not fared well under welfare reform. It behooves us to consider the reasons why this is such a significant indicator of failure to attain self-sufficiency and to create policies that counter any racial or ethnic biases in the public assistance system.
This report finds a correlation between involuntary leavers of TANF and high levels of material hardships. They find that "45 percent of eligible mothers do not participate in TANF, that all of the eligible groups have high levels of hardship, and that involuntary leavers are markedly worse off at one year than any other group in terms of extreme material hardship and poor mental health. These results can help us understand the extent to which recent declines in welfare rolls may have been achieved at the expense of the health and wellbeing of financially eligible women and their children."
The Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study is following a birth cohort of nearly 5,000 children, including 3,712 children born to unmarried parents and 1,186 children born to married parents. The data are nationally representative of births in cities with populations of 200,000 or more.
This particular paper defined extreme hardships cases as those instances where a mother's children went hungry, she herself went hungry, she was evicted from her home or she had to stay in a shelter or car during the year. This measurement is very similar to the other studies cited and appears to back their conclusions that an important indicator of the success of welfare reform would be TANF leavers who don't exhibit material hardship.
1. Impact of TANF policies on children
This study provides a synthesis of data from seven evaluations of the effect of key TANF policies on children. The policies evaluated included work first strategies, time limits, and financial incentives for work. Each of the policies was actually implemented prior to 1996 on a pilot basis in various localities and subsequently became implemented more broadly as part of the PRWORA. The studies summarized were commenced during those pre 1996 pilot programs.
The mandatory education-first/work-first programs studied were found to have weak or no impact on children between the ages of five and seven. When impacts did occur, some positive results were found in the area of academic/cognitive development. However, these positive impacts were found only in programs where mothers also showed increased educational attainment. These program designs yielded mixed impacts on the behavioral outcomes for children and unfavorable impacts for the health outcomes for children.
A second program model studied centered on providing strong financial incentives for work. These programs increased employment, improved income, and reduced poverty. Significant impacts on children were found in these programs and the type of impact varied significantly with the age of the children studied. These programs showed weak or no impact for children under the age of five. Children between the ages of five and 12 showed clear patterns of favorable impacts in academic/cognitive development and in behavioral/emotional adjustment. However, adolescents between the ages of 13 and 18 and school-age children of recent applicants exhibited unfavorable impacts in academic/cognitive development and behavioral/emotional adjustment. These teens reported more frequent smoking, drinking and drug use, and more frequent delinquent activity. While these results support the concept that younger children fare better when their families have more income, they also raise serious concerns about the impact that welfare reform has had on teenage members of recipient households.
The impact of time limit policies on children was also evaluated by some of these studies. Overall, time limits were found to have no impact on the academic/cognitive development of children ages five to 12, favorable impacts were found for the health and safety for children in this age range, and there was a slight indication of unfavorable impacts for these children in the area of behavioral/emotional adjustment. Some unfavorable impacts were again found for adolescents whose families were involved in time limited programs as the adolescents studied were more likely to have been suspended from school and their mothers rated their academic achievement slightly lower than mothers of adolescents who were not involved in time limited programs. However, these adolescents were no more likely than their counterparts to have been arrested, had contact with the police, been convicted, had a baby, or to be below average academically or in special education.
In summarizing the existing data, this study found that favorable impacts tended to occur for school-age children in programs that improved family economic status in terms of employment, earnings, overall family income, and proportion of families in poverty. These patterns of economic impacts occurred most consistently in programs with strong financial incentives and supports for working. Favorable impacts in academic/cognitive development for school-age children also tended to result from programs that increased maternal education attainment. Unfavorable impacts tended to occur when families did not show progress or experienced setbacks of any of the core economic outcomes, when children were adolescents, and for children who were at lower rather than higher levels of disadvantage.
The authors of this study suggested several areas for policy development that follow from this data analysis. Those policy implications include:
Finally, the authors note that even when favorable impacts did occur for the children whose families were in receipt of public assistance, those favorable impacts still did not bring the children to national norms for academic/cognitive development or behavioral/emotional adjustment.
This research brief summarized findings from 34 random assignment studies and 33 econometric studies evaluating the impact of various welfare reform policies on children. The researchers found generally that welfare reform policies have had a mixed impact on children with effects that vary with the age of the child.
According to this research brief, grade school-age children appear to either be unaffected or positively affected by many welfare reform policies. Programs with work requirements, now a standard part of the welfare system in New York State, had little impact on grade school-age children. Furthermore, programs that provided financial work incentives and that were associated with an increase in family income led to a reduction in behavior and school problems for grade school-age children.
The impact that work requirements and work incentive programs had on adolescents was much less favorable. The studies provided evidence of unfavorable impacts for adolescents whose parents were mandated to work. This unfavorable impact was shown as an increase in achievement problems for these teenagers. The research also revealed negative impacts for adolescents whose parents were involved in financial work incentive programs. This research brief does caution that the results are limited because of the nature of the studies that have been completed and it emphasizes the need for further research on the issue of child well-being, especially research on long range impacts.
In 1998 the federal government awarded competitive grants to states and large counties to study families who have left welfare, known as "leaver studies." This article provides a synthesis of the findings of the federally funded leaver studies. One of the issues examined by the leaver studies was child well-being and child care, including child health and health insurance coverage, children's behavior, interactions with child welfare services, and child care.
The findings from this synthesis are generally positive in all areas except the area of child care. The leaver studies found that reports of children in leaver families in poor or fair health are generally low, between 5 percent and 10 percent of children. In addition, the majority of leavers reported that their children's behavior was better after the family exited from TANF and there was little evidence regarding the percent of child welfare involved leavers. The studies also found that between one tenth and one quarter of leaver families had uninsured children.
The child care results indicated that the vast majority of children in leaver families are being cared for in unregulated and informal child care settings. While a substantial percentage of leaver families rely on parental care for child care, those not using parents were most likely to be using relatives and siblings as child care providers and many families were not paying for child care at all. Only between 15 percent and 25 percent of leaver families were using government subsidies for child care. These findings raise concerns about the quality of child care that is accessible to families after they exit the welfare system and the existing ability of the government child care subsidy system to meet the child care needs of low-income working families.
2. Impact on child welfare
The advent of welfare reform brought with it great concern over the impact that new public assistance policies would have on incidents of child neglect and entries into the foster care system. Previous research has shown a strong link between welfare receipt and risk of child welfare involvement and welfare receipt and future child welfare involvement. In fact, close to half of all identified incidents of child abuse or neglect occur in families receiving welfare and more than half of all foster children come from homes financially eligible for welfare. The research summarized in this article evaluated whether changes in welfare policy had an impact on child welfare caseloads across the United States.
The researchers found no evidence to suggest that welfare reform significantly increased the number of referrals to child welfare agencies. In addition, an analysis of caseload data revealed that allegations and substantiated report of abuse and neglect have been stable or declining since welfare reform, continuing the trend in child welfare caseload prior to 1996.
This research did highlight some areas of concern regarding the intersection of welfare reform and the child welfare system. There was evidence that policies implemented during welfare reform were having a greater impact on families with active public assistance and active child welfare cases, referred to as dual-system families. Case study respondents reported that some dual system families were struggling to meet the demands of both systems with which they were involved. For instance, work requirements may conflict with child welfare imposed services and court hearings. In fact, a caseworker from Erie County, New York, reported that daytime work schedules made parents unavailable for child welfare case reviews, required service appointments, court hearings, and visits with children in foster care. Workers also reported that families seemed overwhelmed by the stress of meeting demands of both systems and that families with emergency need not met by TANF may have children placed in foster care. Finally, subjects interviewed as part of the study reported concern about child safety when work was mandated without the concomitant support of child care.
These researchers gathered child welfare data from various states and New York State data was provided as part of the report. This data reveals an increase in New York State's average annual change in children investigated since welfare reform and an increase in the average annual change in the number of children with a substantiated or indicated investigation since welfare reform. The average annual change in children investigated rose from a decrease of 1.7 between 1993 and 1996 to an increase of 5.0 between 1996 and 1998. During those same periods, the average annual change in the number of children with a substantiated or indicated investigation rose from an increase of 6.3 to an increase of 9.2. This state level data bucks the national trend, which showed an overall decrease in both the number of children investigated and the number of substantiated investigations. These results raise some question as to the impact that changes in public assistance policies may have had at the state level.
Respondents to the survey summarized in this article reported a number of other changes that they had seen since welfare rules were changed. Those changes included an increase in the number of families who were reported to child welfare for inadequate supervision (although only Michigan had data to document such an increase), an increase in the number of families coming to the attention of child welfare caseworkers due to issues resulting from poverty, child welfare agencies receiving more reports related to domestic violence, and an increase in child welfare reports coming from TANF offices. Child welfare workers in New York State reported seeing an increase in families doubling up in housing.
Some data reported from this study revealed a strong relationship between sanctions and child welfare involvement. For instance, in California, of 600 reports of abuse or neglect over 3 months, 100 of the reported families had been sanctioned. In addition, families with breaks in financial assistance were more likely to be involved with the child welfare system than families who had received ongoing assistance. Data in Michigan revealed that sanctioned families were 50 percent more likely to have had some contact with the child welfare system than nonsanctioned families.
The authors of this study warned that the hard data on the extent to which families on public assistance are reported to child welfare officials for abuse or neglect is extremely limited and that data on the number of welfare families entering the child welfare system is not available. They also noted that most people interviewed for this study felt that it was too early to accurately ascertain the effect of welfare reform on the child welfare system. Finally, they suggest that future studies need to be conducted to link changes in families' income, employment, child care, interaction with TANF workers, and receipt of services directly to child welfare involvement and outcomes.
This article analyzes the impact of the implementation of TANF on rates of child maltreatment. The author first points out several flaws with interpreting available data. Those flaws include the fact that both the total number of substantiated cases of child maltreatment and the incidence of child abuse and neglect have declined while the number of children in foster care has risen steadily and significantly since welfare reform. In addition, most leaver studies focus on families after their welfare cases have been closed and research suggests that most children are placed in care while families are receiving assistance. Leaver studies also tend to follow outcomes for a short time after families exit welfare. Finally, there are no studies comparing children in families subject to TANF requirements to children in families not subject to TANF requirements.
The author does note that other research, conducted primarily prior to 1996 on policies and programs similar to the policies and programs implemented after the PRWORA was passed, raises red flags about the impact of welfare reform on child maltreatment. These red flags include the following findings;
While these results are cause for concern over the impact that welfare reform has had on child maltreatment, the existing research and data is insufficient to accurately determine what, if any, real impact there has been.
3. Child-Only Cases
This report includes a literature review, a secondary analyses of data from the National Survey of Child and Adolescent Wellbeing (NSCAW) and the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP), and case studies of children in child-only cases with relative caregivers. The report emphasizes an overarching theme of both protection and risk for the children involved in these TANF cases.
The literature review revealed that there is very limited information available on this specific population. The literature that does exist reveals that children in child-only cases with relative caregivers have often been exposed to traumatic experiences prior to placement with their relatives. General research on children in relative care also suggests that children in relative care tend to be at increased risk of medical, behavioral and educational problems. Finally, the existing literature also shows that the family units in these child-only cases tend to be more stable financially that other TANF families.
The secondary analyses conducted on the NSCAW and the SIPP revealed little evidence that children with relatives are worse off in terms of well-being than children in TANF families that are headed by their parents. Compared to other children in out-of-home care, children in child-only TANF cases with relative caregivers rate favorably with regard to health care utilization, developmental indicators, and mental health. Finally, the analyses revealed some indications of issues regarding mental health, trauma, and educational problems for this population of children.
The case studies reported in this publication show that many children in TANF child-only relative care have extensive material and services needs and that many TANF agencies are not adequately equipped to meet those needs. In addition, there seemed to be a lack of assessment and case management for these TANF cases and there was little collaboration between the TANF agencies and the child welfare agencies.
In summary, the authors note that TANF child-only cases with relative caregivers often result from circumstances that could justify child welfare involvement. While placement with relatives is preferable to other forms of out-of-home care, many of the children in these cases still have extensive unmet needs and fall between the cracks of the child welfare and TANF mandates. They suggest that further, more specific research on this population is needed.
This synthesis of research on child-only cases found that children in child-only cases often have significant needs unique to the child-only population. For instance, research has shown that substance abuse and other serious personal problems, such as incarceration, child abuse or neglect, and parental desertion are often key in the formation of child-only cases. Children in child-only cases frequently suffer from mental health problems, especially as a result of trauma or separation from parents. Research has also shown that children in child-only cases are typically older than other children on TANF and they have often experienced multiple caregivers. Substandard housing, poor or inadequate health care, food insecurity and other problems that often accompany poverty are also common for children in child-only cases. Studies have also found that adult caregivers in child-only cases experience significant barriers to employment, including less formal education and less work experience. However, nonparental child-only cases have been found to be less disadvantaged, have more income and face fewer hardships than other TANF families.
The review of the literature showed specific variations in the needs of three different groups of child-only cases. First, many nonparental caregivers in child-only cases were found to be in poor health. Second, high rates of food insecurity were found for families in which the parent was in receipt of SSI. Third, immigrant families in receipt of child-only grants exhibited extreme levels of disadvantage. These findings suggest that the well-being of children in child-only should not be generalized across all child-only cases and that more specific analyses of the different types of child-only cases would be beneficial.
The issue note suggests that improvements in the area of child-only cases be made so the many economic, case management, and child welfare needs of the children in these cases are met. The suggested improvements include providing additional cash benefits, creating benefits outreach and facilitated enrollment, and improving services to children and caregivers across the child welfare and TANF systems. Suggested cross system improvements include directly linking the child welfare and TANF systems, increasing TANF benefits to mirror foster care benefit levels, and creating programs and financial assistance for relative caregivers without requiring that custody be relinquished and without stringent foster care licensing.
The Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance contracted with Cornell University for this study of the child-only caseload in New York State. Through both phone interviews with caretakers in child-only cases and focus groups and in-depth interviews with 16 and 17 year old child-only recipients, this study describes the child-only caseload in New York and highlights some areas of concern for the children in these cases.
The researchers found that the child-only caseload in New York State consists of three types of cases: non-parent caretaker cases, cases in which the parent is in receipt of SSI and therefore ineligible for TANF assistance, and cases in which the parent's immigration status renders the parent ineligible for TANF assistance. While 65 percent of the child-only cases are located in New York City, this study sampled an even number of cases from New York City and the rest of the state. Thus, the rest of the state cases are overrepresented in the findings.
Areas of concern that emerged from the study revolved around the health of caretakers, the elevated levels of school and behavior problems for some children who are part of this caseload, food insecurity in child-only families, significant issues of parental drug abuse and child neglect that led children to non-parent caretakers, and the challenges that many teenagers in child-only cases face when transitioning to independence. While the majority of children in these cases were reportedly in good health and were experiencing minimal problems at school and with their behavior, the findings raised some cause for concern about a significant minority of children who were experiencing above average school and behavior problems. Additionally, 66 percent of the families surveyed reported one or more food related problems in the past year. Income levels for all types of families in child-only cases were relatively low. However, immigrant families reported markedly lower income than other categories of child-only families with average annual income at only $4,077.15. In addition, immigrant families and SSI families were the most likely to report high levels of food insecurity.
The report also suggests directions for future policy with regard to child-only cases. Those suggestions include: targeting families in child-only cases for education and counseling programs; linking non-parent caregivers to parenting classes and mentoring programs; increasing drug treatment and mental health services for biological parents; increasing Earned Income Tax Credit outreach to child-only families, increasing child support court order and enforcement for child-only families; increasing health care for caregivers; facilitating mentoring relationships for youth; strengthening external supports for youth and reducing external obstacles; providing youth formal and informal advice about career paths; creating more high-quality work and service opportunities for youth; and engaging the youth as active participants.
Given the extensive findings outlined in this report, the Committee has generated a list of concepts to form the basis for designing several future policy initiatives. These ideas represent an attempt to respond to most of the major issues that were brought before the Committee at the legislative hearings and those that were cited within the literature pertaining to the outcomes of welfare reform in New York State. Based on this evidence, there is an obvious need to improve upon our State's social services policies. The Committee is dedicated to addressing the actual needs of the current population of public assistance recipients and ensuring that those who are diligently working to become self-sufficient can realistically achieve and maintain that goal for themselves and their families. Fundamentally, all of these policy concepts are designed to encourage work and reduce welfare dependency.
As we move ahead with the 2006 Legislative Session, the Committee looks forward to working with advocates, policy researchers, non-profit and government service providers throughout the State, as well as with the Senate and the Executive, to engage in additional discussions about these policy concepts. As Chair of the Committee, my aim during this session is to work in collaboration with all stakeholders to hone these ideas into legislative proposals that can be introduced and acted upon by the Legislature.
This "Welfare to Career" program would be designed for public assistance recipients focusing on: 1) strengthening job skills, and 2) progressively increasing wages through career advancement. Implementation would involve local social services agencies and employers in the private sector working in collaboration to help clients achieve these goals. Local social services districts would make direct job placements for program participants in paid positions starting above minimum wage with substantial opportunity for career advancement over time. Therefore, these clients would begin earning income from work much sooner than clients placed in mandatory work experience programs that do not pay an actual wage. Participants would also receive vocational on-the-job training in conjunction with work experience.
The program would target specific occupations and industries that offer employees the greatest opportunity to earn a living wage and obtain wage increases, including skilled trades, computer science and technological fields. In order to make employment of public assistance recipients an attractive option for private employers, the local district, or the provider who has a contract with the local district to operate this program, would assume some of the overhead costs associated with employment of public assistance recipients. They would also assist the private employer with the application for any tax credits for which the employer may be eligible as a result of the employment of public assistance recipients. Local districts or contracted providers could, in turn, collect a fee, which is less than the cost that would otherwise be incurred by the employer were the services not being provided by the district or the contractor, from the private employers for the services that are provided. Finally, the program would also include a case management component to conduct assessments and link clients to supportive services needed to maintain employment, such as housing services, transportation, child care, and substance abuse or mental health treatment. Once clients became ineligible for public assistance, the case management component would continue for a specified period of time to ensure that clients continue to receive supportive services they need to maintain employment.
To ensure that all program components work together efficiently and effectively, a network of support and communication would be established between the local social services agency, employers, vocational training centers, community colleges and educational programs, and non-profit services providers. This network would be designed to center around the client's needs and respond to problems or barriers to success as they become apparent.
Access to basic education and higher education has long been a priority for the Assembly Social Services Committee. Historically, proposals have been advanced to ensure that all public assistance recipients in need of basic education services are notified of the opportunity to participate in approved basic education programs and that they are then not unreasonably denied the opportunity to enroll in any such basic education program that would accommodate the need to meet mandatory work participation requirements. Unfortunately, Governor Pataki has vetoed this measure and refused to codify any requirement on social service districts to ensure that public assistance recipients receive the basic education needed to ensure that they become literate, employable workers. The findings in this report strengthen the call for the existing basic education legislation and demand that some responsibility be placed on local social services districts to ensure that all recipients of public assistance are provided the opportunities to achieve the basic education needed to obtain and maintain employment.
The findings in this report also highlight the extraordinary role that access to higher education can play to truly lift families out of poverty. Policy should move in the direction of allowing public assistance recipients to attend both two and four year institutions for post secondary education. Needed supports would be provided so that parents could both work and attend an educational institution for either two or four years and then graduate into true self-sufficiency. Model programs such as the Parents as Scholars program operated in Maine should be looked to in an effort to structure a New York State program for college ready public assistance recipients.
This policy could be administered in conjunction with the "Welfare to Career" program referenced in subsection a. above. It would also involve collaborations between local social services districts and employers in the private sector to establish a long-term self-sufficiency plan for working public assistance recipients. The plan would include a detailed strategy for achieving gradual career advancement with regular wage increases. Specifically, the plan would include: 1) career and salary goals with gradual interim benchmarks, 2) a step-by-step plan for the client to follow to achieve those goals, including a means for the client to obtain needed transportation and child care, along with participation in education and/or training to enhance job skills, and 3) responsibilities of participant, employer and social services agency. As part of the process of designing the self-sufficiency plan, the local district would conduct a comprehensive assessment to identify any and all barriers to employment and a means for overcoming those barriers.
The step-by-step plan for achieving stated career and salary goals would also include a reasonable schedule for the client to fulfill parenting responsibilities, participate in work and any other educational, training or treatment programs essential to the client's continued progress. For all clients, a minimum goal of achieving an earned income level that puts them above the FPL would be established. The Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) would be required to maintain oversight of local districts' completion of these self-sufficiency plans, which would also satisfy the employability plan requirements set forth in Social Services Law for all program participants. Most importantly, the self-sufficiency plan would focus on the client's strengths and abilities through a positive, non-punitive approach. High expectations would be set for each individual client based on the notion that career growth and wage increases are achievable goals for all participants.
An asset development program would be administered by OTDA to encourage savings and improve personal financial planning to help current public assistance recipients, or those who recently left public assistance, build assets as part of their plan to achieve self-sufficiency. This program would allow individuals to create Individual Development Accounts (IDAs) that would provide matching funds for a specific purpose, such as home ownership, education, microenterprise or other small business start-up. Participation in the program would be offered through local social services districts to all public assistance recipients who are engaged in unsubsidized employment and all those who received public assistance in the past 12 months and have earned income. IDAs would be opened for all qualified applicants by OTDA and held at a designated financial institution. Enrolled participants would receive financial management training on topics such as establishing a budget, building a long-term savings plan, paying off debt, and the basics of money management. Participation in this program would be integrated into clients' comprehensive self-sufficiency plan as a means to achieve certain specified savings goals.
To maximize federal revenue, the State would be encouraged to apply for a federal grant under the Assets for Independence (AFI) program that offers grants for IDA savings demonstration projects. Under the federal guidelines, AFI provides five-year grants to State agencies that enable low-income individuals and families to achieve economic self-sufficiency by accumulating economic assets. The federal government would match every dollar spent by the state, up to a maximum federal grant of $1 million. Eligible grantees include community-based nonprofits and state, local and Tribal government agencies and others, such as community development financial institutions and credit unions. Grantees provide financial literacy training to participants and help them save earned income in special matched bank accounts (IDAs), which enable low-income and low-wealth families to accumulate savings for long-term assets such as a house, a small business, or a higher education (information on this program is available on the Department of Health and Human Services website: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/assetbuilding/a8pplying.html#about).
Access to legal services are critical to ensure the just and appropriate administration of public assistance benefits. Without knowledge of one's rights, one's opportunities for corrective action, and the vast array of public benefit programs and their varied and complicated rules for eligibility and program compliance, applicants for and recipients of public assistance are left with little redress in an overwhelming, and sometimes mistake prone, system. As the hearing testimony clearly revealed, the manner in which the welfare system in New York State is programmed to default recipients into sanction status makes access to legal services even more critical. As people with physical and mental disabilities continue to attempt to navigate the public assistance system, it is extraordinarily important that knowledgeable advocates are available to help them through the process. Since state officials have repeatedly stated that all eligible persons should receive the assistance they need to become self-sufficient, it is incumbent on the state to ensure that eligible people don't fall between the cracks.
A recent court decision that invalidated a state regulation that illegally reduced benefits to poor households containing an SSI recipient demonstrates the urgent need for legal services in New York. The case involved several plaintiffs having multiple disabilities. One woman was diagnosed with brittle diabetes at age seven and later suffered a seizure while at work. While receiving public assistance to care for her child, she eventually developed a brain tumor, uterine cancer and coronary artery disease, and then became completely blind. Other plaintiffs in the case struggled to care for a severely disabled child. One autistic nine-year-old child functioning at the level of a two-year-old was also asthmatic, anemic and hyperactive. This child could not ride on public transportation and put extreme burdens on his family due to his impaired coordination and high demand for repetition and predictability in his environment. Another child, age five, also suffered from autism. In addition, he could not speak and needed assistance using the toilet and eating. This child also had a tendency to become hysterical and violent when confronted with any changes in his environment and needed constant attention to prevent him from harming himself or others. Clearly, these families were in dire need of resources just to address their medical issues, in addition to meeting basic needs. All of these households had been disastrously affected by the regulation, which reduced their benefits to a point that pushed them below a subsistence level of existence.
Without access to essential legal services, these severely disabled individuals would have no means of contesting improper agency policies and fair hearing decisions. Furthermore, many groups that provide these services are desperately suffering from a lack of adequate funding. Since there has been a substantial decline in the advocacy capacity of legal service providers throughout the state, it is uncertain whether the most vulnerable individuals will be able to obtain the legal representation they need merely to survive.
Programs to provide these needed services would be very straightforward. State funding is necessary to provide legal services offices with the resources to do the public benefits work that has traditionally been legal services work. The dissipation of these funding streams has led to the virtual abolition of public benefits specialists at legal services offices across the state. The implementation of this policy would simply require the creation of a state funding stream limited to the provision of legal services that focus on access to public assistance.
Many witnesses testified about the prohibitively high cost of housing, especially in New York City. Several witnesses also touched on the inadequacy of the existing shelter supplement programs such as Housing Stability Plus. As policymakers consider ways to assist low-income working families so that they can move off the public assistance rolls, a housing subsidy program for low-income working families that is not tied to receipt of welfare must be considered.
This program could be modeled from, and essentially be made as an extension of the federal Section 8 housing program, providing rental assistance to low-income working families and requiring those families to contribute 30 percent of their income to their rental expenses. It would be critical to establish this program outside of the traditional structure of welfare payments in order to truly support families who are working but whose wages are so low that they still cannot maintain adequate housing for their families. By offering such a program to employed families who are not in receipt of family assistance, a true reward for work and self-sufficiency would be available for families after they are able to transition off of the welfare system.
The establishment of such a program outside of the usual structure of welfare payments would require substantial state funding. However, such funding would likely eliminate other more costly expenses that are needed to support families at risk of losing their housing such as the cost of homeless shelters, family assistance benefits, and emergency eviction prevention activities. In addition, the well-being of children would likely improve as the significant disruption caused by homelessness would be eliminated.
The critical role that access to affordable quality child care plays in a family's ability to successfully exit the welfare system and to continue to function without the need for family assistance payments was highlighted by both the survey of the literature and many witnesses. While the level of funding for child care in New York State had risen steadily prior to the State Fiscal Year (SFY) 2005-06 budget, the level of child care funding seems to be at a critical juncture. The SFY 2005-06 budget was enacted with an overall $40 million reduction in child care funding from the previous year and the federal government appears to be unwilling to increase funding for child care to the extent needed to pay for the extended work hours that have been proposed in the context of reauthorization of TANF.
In light of the critical importance that quality child care plays and the precarious position in which child care funding appears to be, New York State should develop a comprehensive plan to ensure that all public assistance recipients and all low-income families who are financially eligible have access to high quality child care. Such a plan must also ensure that a family's access to high quality child care is not dependent on the county in which they happen to live. Providing children a healthy and enriched early childhood is one of the best ways that government can work to help families break the cycle of poverty and provide children true opportunities to learn and thrive as they grow into the next generation of workers.
Both the literature on the impact of TANF programs on child well-being and the literature on child-only cases highlighted the need to address the adolescents who are part of the TANF caseload. While TANF services are targeted primarily to parents and their ability to engage in work activities, the teenagers who are in receipt of TANF benefits are not far from becoming adults who may soon find themselves in contact with the TANF, homeless, or criminal justice systems if they are not ready to enter adulthood as knowledgeable and employable workers. It is important to address the needs of this population in an effort to prevent their entry into these systems as they become adults.
Services to meet the needs of these youth could entail mentoring programs that facilitate contact with a mentor who can provide teens with information about and assistance with the pursuit of higher education. Services could also entail after school programs to ensure that teenagers are not left to parent their young siblings after school hours are over and the creation of high quality part time work and service opportunities for these youth. The establishment of programs to assist teens in TANF households could dramatically improve the quality of life for these children, provide them increased opportunities to follow productive paths to their own self-sufficiency, and prevent a future generation from turning to TANF for support as they reach adulthood.
This policy would require local social services districts to provide information to all public assistance recipients prior to leaving the Family Assistance (FA) or Safety Net Assistance (SNA) program about the opportunity to receive transitional benefits, including Food Stamps, Medicaid and child care subsidies. The information should clearly explain to all individuals that these benefits will be provided for a specified period of time after they go off public assistance, along with a summary of eligibility requirements. Local districts would be required to ensure automatic enrollment for all available transitional benefits for which a family is eligible. OTDA would be required to produce publicly available statewide data documenting how many individuals receive transitional benefits once they leave public assistance. This information should be released monthly, with statistics showing participation levels by county and statewide. Finally, local districts would be prohibited from denying transitional Food Stamp benefits to those leaving public assistance solely on the basis of their missing a recertification appointment. In addition to facilitating the transition to self-sufficiency, this policy would maximize the advantages of drawing federal funds into the state for essential supports such as Food Stamps, which would provide a source of economic empowerment in many low-income neighborhoods.
Attention clearly needs to be paid to the growing percentage of child-only cases in the New York State TANF caseload. Research, both nationally and in this state, has shown that children in SSI and immigrant child-only cases are living at great risk of significant food insecurity and deep poverty. In addition, children who are living with non-parent caretakers have likely experienced the significant trauma of child abuse or neglect, parental drug or alcohol abuse, or parental mental illness. All of these children are likely in great need of services and have been largely ignored by the TANF system to this point.
New York State must develop a comprehensive policy to address the needs of children in these child-only TANF households. The child welfare system operates prevention services that may be appropriate for many of the children on the child-only caseload and linkages to and funding for those services for the child-only population should be created. The counseling and therapy needed by both the children and their caretakers should be provided. In addition, the food assistance policies in New York State should be reviewed to ensure that SSI and immigrant child-only families are receiving the support that they need to feed their children without worry. Finally, more outreach and case management should be provided to these households to ensure that they are accessing all benefits for which they are eligible and that the children are receiving necessary supports and services.
1. Clients with Physical and/or Mental Disabilities
Since much of the testimony that was presented, along with numerous state and national studies, indicate an increasing proportion of the public assistance caseload has at least one physical or mental impairment, there is a clear need to address the specific needs of this population. All potential work limiting conditions should be identified early on and addressed on an individualized basis. The ideal policy program to assist this population in achieving self-sufficiency would ensure that each applicant who indicates having a disability is put through a thorough process of screening, assessment and ongoing case management.
The screening would involve an in depth discussion between the applicant and a caseworker, facilitated by a series of questions designed to help identify potential limitations. Once these limitations are recognized, the assessment would involve an evaluation by a qualified health care professional to determine the extent of the work limitations and a referral to appropriate services that would assist the individual in being able to participate in an appropriate work activity. If the outcome of the assessment indicated that the applicant is unable to work and possibly eligible for federal SSI or SSDI benefits, a caseworker would assist the applicant in obtaining those resources. In the meantime, the well-being of clients would be regularly monitored and their public assistance application would be processed with the clear understanding that the individual's disability was a serious work limitation.
Case management would allow clients to develop a relationship with one professional who would observe their progress over time. The case manager would ensure that clients were able to apply for and receive any medical benefits needed to address and treat their health condition. In addition, clients presenting a mental health issue would be connected to appropriate services, including Intensive Case Management offered through the State's Office of Mental Health (OMH) as needed. For all disabled clients participating in work, the case manager would seek to link the client to other services needed to overcome any remaining barriers or possibly request a transfer to a more appropriate work assignment. This aspect of the program would be essential to preventing the imposition of unwarranted sanctions upon clients who were simply unable to comply with work rules or other program requirements due to their physical and/or mental health condition. The expertise that currently exists in the Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals with Disabilities program may meet the needs of many individuals with disabilities who are recipients of public assistance and connections that might be made with this program to serve this population should be explored.
2. Clients with Significant and/or Multiple Barriers to Employment
Similar to a program designed to assist disabled public assistance applicants and recipients, an ideal program to assist those facing other significant barriers to employment would also involve a process of screening, assessment and ongoing case management. However, this policy would be designed to address a broader range of barriers, such as lack of housing, transportation, child care, food, and other basic needs that are so crucial for families to both maintain employment and manage a household. Case managers would be trained to understand the full array of resources and service providers in the community and to link clients to the specific services they need to become self-sufficient. Clients with multiple barriers would be placed in a separate track so that case management could be intensified for them. A team of case managers and professionals would work closely with this population to help them confront their most pressing issues first, and then construct a plan to overcome those barriers over time.
Clients with severe barriers such as a domestic violence or substance abuse issue would be taken most seriously by caseworkers. These clients would be placed on a separate track uniquely designed to address their most immediate and potentially dangerous problem. Ongoing case management would be critical for these populations, to protect them from falling back into a dangerous situation and to facilitate their continued progress toward overall stability, physical and emotional well-being, development of work skills, and educational gains.
3. Victims of Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault
The literature reviewed in this report and the testimony provided by several witnesses highlights the significant disparity between the likely prevalence of domestic violence among women in receipt of TANF in New York State and the number of women who identify themselves as victims of domestic violence. In addition, statistics provided in the testimony highlighted the vast disparity from county to county regarding the number of women who self identify as domestic violence victims who are then found to have credible claims. This data raises serious concerns about the implementation of the Family Violence Option (FVO) in New York.
In response to those concerns, procedures for implementation of the FVO should be reassessed and statewide standards should be established to ensure that women who have been victims of domestic violence are appropriately identified and assessed. All social services offices should have immediate access to a Domestic Violence Liaison (DVL) should an applicant or recipient self identify as a survivor of domestic violence and interview procedures should be implemented to allow for and facilitate the safe, confidential, and accurate self reporting of domestic violence by applicants for public assistance. In addition, victims of domestic violence are likely to face many significant barriers to self-sufficiency, such as the need for safe housing, and children who have witnessed domestic violence and whose families have been uprooted as a result of domestic violence have many special needs. Programs and services should be developed to ensure that these varied special needs of survivors of domestic violence and their families are met in order to assist these families on their paths to self-sufficiency.
4. Sanctioned Families
It is clear that many of those who testified and many of those who have researched issues around TANF have identified sanctions as a significant factor. Much of the testimony around sanctions identified weaknesses in New York State's current sanction system and research on sanctions has shown that sanctions are most likely to impact the most vulnerable of TANF families. In the wake of these findings, the sanction policy of New York State must be reevaluated.
The fact that sanctioned families are often the families with the most significant barriers to work provides the State with an opportunity. In Tioga County, for example, the Department of Social Services created a team of staff, including an employment specialist, to conduct home visits to sanctioned households and investigate the real reasons why families were in sanction status. Through this intervention, social services workers uncovered unidentified medical and mental health issues, domestic violence, substandard housing, literacy problems, and issues with children's behavior and/or health. In addition, numerous families were not even aware that they were in sanction status. With intensive case management, out of the 28 households that were in sanction status in June 2004, only 3 were still sanctioned by August 2004.
Instead of focusing on sanctioned families as those who are willfully noncompliant, sanctioned families should be viewed as those families most in need of services and support to transition into the workforce. Thus, programs should be developed in each social services district to provide intensive case management to sanctioned families. Case managers, who are trained social workers, should be assigned to sanctioned households in order to meet regularly with the families. Case management services should include home visits, specialized health and mental health assessments, increased support with job search and job retention activities, and assistance with obtaining quality child care.
Based on all of the evidence that was obtained through the legislative hearings and an analysis of a sample of literature from a variety of research experts in the field of welfare reform policy, the Committee has discovered some clear general trends among welfare recipients in New York State. Although there are certainly indisputable findings that the enactment of welfare reform has resulted in smaller welfare caseloads throughout the State, there are considerable reasons to be concerned about its effectiveness in reducing poverty and facilitating the transition to self-sufficiency for many families.
First, it is crucial to weigh the significance of the economic conditions that have plagued New York, particularly in recent years. As attested to in the Fiscal Policy Institute's report, The State of Working New York 2005, the status of our State's economic recovery has been tenuous at best, with those in low-wage jobs faring the worst in the current job market. Furthermore, with the overwhelming rise in the cost of living throughout so many regions of the State, particularly in downstate areas such as New York City and Long Island, it is even more difficult for working families to afford their basic needs without relying upon some form of government-funded assistance. This issue has not yet been adequately addressed by current welfare reform policy and social services funding streams, which focus almost entirely upon the work first approach toward clients. Without sufficient job opportunities available to welfare recipients, even the most determined individuals will not be able to achieve success in transitioning to self-sufficiency.
In addition to the role that broader economic factors play in influencing the effectiveness of welfare reform policy, it is vitally important to address the barriers to employment that exist for so many of our State's needy families. Given what was presented to the Committee at the hearings and what was taken from an analysis of the literature, it is clear that individuals who obtain more job skills and achieve higher educational credentials have an advantage in the job market. The lack of these essential resume building blocks has been a debilitating force for many low-income workers, trapping them in poorly paying industries with little opportunity for wage increases or career advancement. Therefore, future policymaking should include more programs that encourage welfare recipients to participate in education and training that will make them better candidates for higher paying jobs in fields such as skilled trades, computer science, technology or other higher-paying industries. Ideally, local social service districts should work in close collaboration with employers in the private sector to place welfare recipients in unsubsidized employment as quickly as possible, with opportunities to obtain additional training and career advancement over time. These relationships would serve the needs of both clients and employers by ensuring access to jobs leading to self-sufficiency for clients and a steady supply of qualified labor for employers.
Programs such as VIP Managed Work Services have been implemented, partially with the use of TANF dollars, to establish these mutually beneficial arrangements. This program ensures that clients receive a broad range of supportive services needed to overcome barriers such as substance abuse treatment, affordable housing, vocational services, HIV prevention, and employment services. By assuming responsibility for the overall stability of its clients, this program effectively provides employers with a steady supply of well-qualified employees who are ready and prepared to work. Although those served by this program have significant multiple barriers such as lack of a GED, no prior work history, and/or homelessness, the program is successful because it directly addresses the most pressing and immediate needs of its clients. By relieving clients from the weight of these excessive burdens, the program enables them to retain employment long enough to develop the job skills and experience required to achieve career advancement and wage increases over time. The structure of this program should serve as a model for future policymaking aimed at integrating the provision of social services with placement in employment with opportunities that pay a living wage and offer employees additional training and wage increases and continued job retention.
In addition to steering the Committee toward a well-designed employment program model, the testimony and literature discussed in this report clearly demonstrate that the impact of sanctions on the well-being of poor families and their prospects for future success in achieving self-sufficiency cannot be ignored. For the most part, witnesses attested to the fact that social services agencies are too often sanction-driven and do not conduct sufficient investigations into the reasons why clients were unable to comply with program requirements. Even if this were not the case, the literature suggests that sanctions do little more than remove vitally needed resources from poor families with children often facing the most significant barriers to work. Therefore, it is important that future policymaking focus on ensuring that the needs of these families be carefully assessed before a sanction is imposed.
In many instances, families are sanctioned after the result of administrative error. In addition, there are a significant number of administrative actions that result in the denial of support that families should be eligible to receive. These decisions are often overturned in fair hearings, demonstrating either a lack of attention to detail, improper training of caseworkers, or an administrative propensity to deny first. In fact, some social services officials have acknowledged that families can actually begin in sanctioned status if, for example, they cannot demonstrate good cause for leaving a former place of employment or if they have relocated from a different area and have not been able to find a new job. In all cases, families should not be sanctioned until services are offered to address any remaining barriers to work. Ultimately, sanctions only result in burdening local charities and non-profit service providers such as food pantries and homeless shelters by cutting off public assistance to the households that need it most. Based on the evidence, it appears that rarely, if ever, do sanctions actually help families become self-sufficient and that they often inflict harm on the children in these struggling families.
Turning to hardships as an indicator of welfare reform's success, the findings in this report show clearly that securing and maintaining affordable housing remains a critical area of ongoing concern for both current and former welfare recipients. In addition, other hardships such as food, child care, medical and transportation costs remain a problem for many families. Some of the research has found that certain racial minorities and those who left welfare involuntarily are particularly vulnerable to these hardships. This suggests that certain portions of the population may need specialized supportive services to ensure that they can achieve self-sufficiency.
Finally, in regard to the well-being of children, there is more work to be done. While elementary school-age children seem to be faring relatively well in the wake of TANF implementation, adolescent members of TANF households are struggling at a critical juncture in their development. In addition, children in child-only households have some extreme needs but have received little attention from the TANF system. As policymakers consider the creation of a public assistance system that prevents future dependency, the unmet needs of children on the current TANF caseload must be met and quality child care must be available so that those families who have obtained employment can retain their jobs without losing child care or worrying that their children are not safe. As the State has been successful in reducing caseloads and shifting to a work first focused public assistance system, it is now time to look at these deeper issues that remain in order to help families truly break the cycle of poverty. Our long term goal in all instances should be full self-sufficiency, moving those receiving supports into the role of full taxpaying members of society providing for all the needs of their families without any supports of government, except those the general public enjoy, such as TAP, the Tuition Assistance Program.
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