Baucus Comments on Welfare Reform
Welfare reform is an important issue. We succeeded in passing a bipartisan billout of this Committee last year and I hope we will be able to do so again.Welcome Mr. Secretary. I’m glad to see you again. Your expertise is especiallyhelpful to us when it comes to welfare reform.
The 1996 reform law was a fundamental change in our nation’s welfare policy.The old system had failed. It was time to be bold and try something new. I was a strongsupporter of it.
Under welfare reform, hundreds of thousands of Americans have exchanged awelfare check for a paycheck. That’s why I consider welfare reform a success. Andthat’s the success I want to build on. I’m glad the President has asked us to do better.Even with the success so far, we shouldn’t declare victory and declare that welfarereform is done. There are still two million families on welfare. And many of the familieswho have left welfare are just one crisis away from falling back onto the rolls.
As we seek to reauthorize the 1996 law, I believe we should keep two goals inmind. First, we should do better in reaching troubled families still on welfare. Second,we should make sure that those families who have taken the tentative first steps onto theladder of success keep climbing.
I want to thank the Administration for proposing higher work requirements andthe concept of “universal engagement” of welfare recipients. If we get the details right,both of these will help us better reach families still on welfare. I also want to thankSenator Hatch, in particular, for his work on the “universal engagement” provision in thebipartisan bill approved by this Committee last year.
But I have some concerns with the proposal from the Administration. And thebest way to illustrate those concerns is to talk about my home state of Montana. I’veconsulted with people all over Montana about welfare reform. We’re proud of our2welfare reform program. In the most recent “high performance bonus” awards, Montanaranked number one in the country in getting welfare recipients into jobs.
A comprehensive evaluation by ABT Associates in 2001 found that Montana’swelfare reform program had made “impressive progress” toward the goal of familyself-sufficiency. The evaluation also found that Montana’s program had a “strongcommitment to moving welfare cases into employment as quickly as possible.”
In Montana, nearly half of those remaining on welfare are Native Americans.
Making welfare reform work better on the reservations is our most important piece ofunfinished business. With this goal in mind, I plan to reintroduce my “American IndianWelfare Reform Act.” And I hope to incorporate elements of my bill into a committeemark.
There is widespread agreement in Montana that the Administration’s proposalwould require us to make a fundamental change in what we’ve been doing. First, itwould cut off our successful waiver program. More importantly, instead of the “workfirst” strategy we have been using, we would have to implement a “workfare first”approach. That’s because the Administration’s proposal restricts “priority” workactivities, by de-emphasizing job search and training in favor of workfare.
That might make sense in places like Manhattan, New York and other big, urbanareas. But we don’t think it makes much sense for Manhattan, Montana – population1,396 – or for other rural areas.
As our evaluation found, Montana is already committed to work. We’ve justtaken a different approach to it – one that we think makes more sense in rural America.And Montana is not the only state where concerns have been expressed about beingforced to change course. An official survey by state organizations found that more than40 States considered the Administration’s work requirements to be a fundamental changein what they were doing.
In 1996, the welfare program was a disaster. It was broken, and major surgerywas required. That surgery has been pretty successful. We need to keep going along thatpath, not force States into making major strategy shifts.
Another part of building on the success of the 1996 law is maintaining the supportavailable for former welfare recipients now in the workforce. There’s a lot of talk abouthow the welfare rolls have dropped by half. It has, and that’s great news.
However, we know a lot less about the huge increase in child care help that’sgone along with the decreased rolls. The number of families getting child care help fromTANF and the child care block grant has more than doubled since 1996. This makessense – when a single mother takes a job, someone has to look after her children. Wewant those kids in safe, adult-supervised settings.
Some claim that there’s plenty of money available to meet the higher workrequirements. But this ignores the way States have invested the freed-up money from thefall in the welfare caseloads into child care and other work supports. That’s what haspaid for the big increase in the child care rolls.
If we don’t provide additional resources to meet the higher work requirements, weare telling the States to cut help for low- income working families, including formerwelfare recipients. Otherwise, they don’t have the money for the more demandingprograms called for by the higher work requirements.
I’m not going to support something that will lead to child care cutbacks for lowincomeworking families. It’s bad policy, because it means some of those former welfarerecipients will fall back on to the rolls when they lose their child care help. That’s notdoing better. And it’s not fair. We told welfare recipients to get jobs and huge numbersof them have done so. We take credit for the success. We need to keep up our end of thebargain and help look after their kids while they work.
It’s also an especially bad time to impose higher mandates on States withoutproviding any additional funding. We all know about the tough fiscal circumstancesfacing States right now. Montana has already had to limit child care help for workingfamilies, and there’s a waiting list of 700 families. I’m not going to make that worse. Iwant to find a way to help those 700 families on the waiting list now.
As I’ve said in past hearings – I remain concerned about the Administration’sproposals to promote marriage with federal funding. Marriage is a personal and privatechoice, not one the government should interfere with.
Despite all the concerns I’ve just expressed, I see a lot of areas where we sharecommon ground with the Administration’s proposal. Let me mention a few.
• Senator Snowe has put forward a comprehensive set of child support reforms.
• Senator Breaux has a good bill to continue transitional Medicaid for another fiveyears.
• Senator Lincoln has proposed an “employment credit” to sharpen the focus onreal work.
• Senator Bayh has a good bill to promote responsible fatherhood.
All four of these ideas are part of the Administration’s proposal. That’s goodnews. I’m certain we can sort through the details together and come up with provisionsthat have widespread bipartisan support.
I look forward to working with Chairman Grassley to develop a strong bipartisanwelfare reauthorization bill. I’m confident that we all want to do what’s best for low income families.
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