June 25,2010

States Continue to Fail to Engage Families in Welfare-to-work Activities

WASHINGTON -- Senator Chuck Grassley, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, and Congressman John Linder, ranking member of the Subcommittee on Income Security and Family Support of the Committee on Ways and Means, today released a report prepared at their request from the Government Accountability Office (GAO).  The report, titled, “Temporary Assistance for Needy Families:  Implications of Recent Legislative and Economic Changes for State Programs and Work Participation Rates,” chronicles the various actions states have taken to respond to the modest changes to the work requirement for states included in the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (DRA).  The report shows states made efforts to artificially meet the DRA requirements by efforts other than actually engaging welfare recipients in welfare-to-work activities.

Senator Grassley said, “It’s disappointing that states have failed to step up to the plate and help struggling families make the transition from welfare to work.  The innovative welfare-to-work programs that we saw in the early 1990s have just about disappeared.  Too many families remain trapped in poverty.  Now, more than ever, with the poor economy, the federal government and the states need to use creative strategies.  Improvements to the welfare program are one critical step.  Congress and the Administration should fix the loopholes that allow states to accept federal money without holding up their end of the bargain to help people out of poverty.  These issues should be fixed when the program extension comes up later this year.”

Congressman Linder said, “Welfare reform was all about expecting and supporting families in work. Yet GAO’s review found States are engaged in multiple efforts to skirt that principle, leaving too many families on welfare and unprepared for the work it takes to lead independent lives. That helps no one. This report reminds us that ensuring States are actively engaging as many adults on welfare as possible in work, training and other productive activities needs to be a focus of TANF reauthorization. That will increase work and earnings and reduce welfare dependence and poverty."

In constructing the changes to welfare programs in the DRA, members of Congress sought to address the situation in which states, as a result of the decline of the welfare caseload, did not have a meaningful work participation rate.   Congressional intent as manifest in the DRA was to promote polices that encouraged states to identify and engage work-ready adults and use options such as education, substance abuse treatment, and counseling for domestic violence with adults who were not ready for work.  The latest data from the Department of Health and Human Services reveal that the majority of able-bodied adults receiving welfare are engaged in zero hours of work, education, training or substance abuse treatment activities.

The GAO report concludes that rather than engage work-ready individuals and assist adults in need of education, training or other supports, states have embarked on a number of schemes that artificially enhance their participation rate.  These include: counting certain families participating in worker supplement programs as welfare families for purposes of the participation rate; excluding certain hard-to-serve families from the welfare caseload; enhancing sanction policies that may reduce the number of families included in the calculation of the work participation rate; and claiming excess maintenance of effort expenditures in order to meet the federally required participation rate.