FEBRUARY 6, 1997
Welfare reform plans around the country are requiring those on public assistance to find a job or lose benefits. The catch: finding affordable daycare as state and local subsidies are cut. Betty Ann Bowser reports.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: For the last month, 31-year-old Linda Goosby has been waking up at 5:30 in the morning to get her children ready for school and daycare. By 8:30 she has to be off the bus and in downtown Cincinnati to do something she's never done before: hunt for a job. Over the past 10 years, this single mother of three has been on welfare, but now because of welfare reform laws passed both in Washington and Ohio, she has to work or lose her benefits. And Goosby says the change is difficult.
A RealAudio version of of this segment is available.
February 4, 1997:
Kwame Holman looks at the impact of last summer's welfare reforms on state governments; then, a panel of regional commentators give their accessments of the reforms.
December 2, 1996:
Elizabeth Brackett reports on the growing business of welfare.
October 22, 1996:
Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA) answers viewer questions about the new welfare reforms in an Online NewsHour Forum.
October 1, 1996:
A team of NewsHour correspondents report across the nation on Day One of the new welfare reforms.
Read a special Online NewsHour backgrounder explaning the challenges states face when reforming welfare.
The Department of Health and Human Services' welfare reform page.
LINDA GOOSBY, Welfare Recipient: Because every morning ain't peaches and cream. Some days my daughter don't want to get up. She wants to cry. My son can't find his shoes. You know it's always something.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: To help make the transition off welfare, the Hamilton County Department of Social Services is teaching thousands of unskilled men and women like Goosby the most basic of skills.
INSTRUCTOR: We're going to go over the appropriate dress for a job interview. A lot of times it depends on what kind of job you're going for. Makes sense, doesn't it?"
BETTY ANN BOWSER: The county also pays for something that Goosby says is even more important: childcare both during and after school.
LINDA GOOSBY: That's the real issue--daycare--for me. That's the real issue. And for a lot of people, especially single parents, if you don't have child care, there's no way that you can work.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: County officials say providing childcare has helped move 7,700 people off welfare since 1995. And they say the key to keeping people off for good is to pay for childcare until they're self-sufficient. Twenty-six year old Vanessa Jones is almost at that point. Although she has a college degree, Jones went on welfare when her daughter was an infant in order to get help with childcare.
VANESSA JONES, Working Mother: I had originally set out to look for a job without having childcare and I was relying on my friends on lunch break and whenever I could get somebody to look after her.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Within three months, she found a job as a counselor. She now earns just over $19,000 a year and has given up all government assistance, except for a $300 a month child care subsidy.
VANESSA JONES: I do pay a fee with my daycare. I pay $140 a month which is just about all I can afford after all the bills are paid.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Jones hopes someday she will be able to give up all forms of government help. But that day may be coming before she can afford it. That's because the county discovered its childcare voucher program was short 5 million dollars for this fiscal year. Jones recently received a letter saying that her assistance would be terminated in two weeks.
VANESSA JONES: The first thing I did was I started crying, you know. I felt so helpless. And then I prayed. I closed my eyes and prayed, and I picked up the phone, you know probably all in the same five minutes and just started calling people. Do you know of anybody who can help with daycare?
BETTY ANN BOWSER: That same letter was sent to more than fourteen hundred other working poor parents in the county, parents who earn between 12 and 22-thousand dollars a year.
PROTESTERS: We need child care to keep us off welfare.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: They quickly organized a series of protests, hoping to get the funding restored . Sandy Smoot, director of child care services for the county, said many of those parents are just one or two paychecks away from going back on welfare.
SANDY SMOOT, Hamilton County Human Services: Those individuals are working in retail, they're working in nursing homes; they're working in--some of them--daycare centers. They're working in a structure that does not have a lot of benefits, and actually doesn't have a lot of tolerance for people that can't make it to work everyday. And those individuals are very vulnerable to coming back on public assistance if they don't have assistance with their childcare.
VANESSA JONES: All I could think about was if it comes down to it, you know, I'm going to have to quit my job and take care of my child, stay at home and take care of my child.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: And go back on welfare?
VANESSA JONES: And go back on welfare.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But the author of Ohio's welfare plan sharply disagrees with the notion that people like Vanessa Jones would cycle back onto welfare.
JOAN LAWRENCE, State Representative: I don't believe she will. She's gotten too far.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Besides, State Representative Joan Lawrence says, it won't be allowed as the state starts to tighten its welfare reform laws.
JOAN LAWRENCE: She will not be able to go back on welfare in a practical sense because you cannot quit a job unless you have good cause. And not having child care is not good cause for quitting a job, so just rule that out.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Hamilton County Commissioner Bob Bedinghaus believes state officials are being short-sighted if they don't see the value in helping the working poor.
BOB BEDINGHAUS, Hamilton County Commissioner: There's the long term fiscal reason to do this. You know, it may be a little more expensive in the short run to pay for some of these subsidies. In the long-term what you're going to have is breaking the generational challenge that we face in welfare and having the next generation not even consider welfare as something they have to depend on.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Bedinghaus lobbied the state to make up the 5-million dollar deficit, but the state refused, saying Hamilton County had given more generous childcare benefits than any other county in the state. Arnold Tompkins is the director of the state's Human Services Department.
ARNOLD TOMPKINS, Ohio Social Services: We, about a year ago gave a budget to Hamilton County, to all the counties, and said here's the amount of money we'll give you for child care, and you manage it within certain parameters. And during that time period they had fairly good success of getting people on, and then they ran out of money. In a block grant scenario, once you run out of money, then that ends the program.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: But a short-term solution has been worked out. $2 million was diverted from other sources within the county budget, and the commissioners launched a campaign to get private businesses to make up the other 3 million. The real battle will begin next month when lawmakers begin to work on the state budget. Hamilton County officials want the budget to include enough money to continue their current childcare subsidy program. But state human services director Tompkins said that if all counties provided that level of benefits, it would cost 640 million dollars, which is about half of what the state now pays out in welfare benefits. And for Tompkins, it's not just a money issue--he's worried the state is creating a new entitlement.
ARNOLD TOMPKINS: I think it's an income support issue, basically, when you look at giving low income people, moderate income people, childcare subsidies. We've ended one entitlement but are now creating another entitlement for low and moderate income people.
SANDY SMOOT: We do not believe it's an entitlement. We think it's a part of a stabilization plan in order to keep people employed. We know that children also get older, and so childcare is not something that's going to last forever.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Rather than subsidize daycare, state Representative Lawrence wants to do something to lower its cost. Later this winter she plans to introduce a bill that would ease government regulation on the daycare industry.
JOAN LAWRENCE: I think we should have a registration system where your next door neighbor can register to be reimbursed and just meet minimum safety and health standards, which Congress requires and the other minimum standards, and be able to take her neighbor's children and get reimbursed. That will open up some possibilities that those mothers don't now have. Less expensive possibilities.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: That concerns many working mothers who worry that childcare will become less safe in the process.
VANESSA JONES: I'm sure there's some just anybody out there who's willing to take care of anybody's child but I'm not willing to take that risk, to just have anybody take care of my child.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: Commissioner Bedinghaus says it's not going to be easy for the county and the state to reach an agreement.
BOB BEDINGHAUS: We're going to keep fighting with the general assembly and keep pressing our point. We think we're on the side of the angels on this one. We're supporting working single mothers who were scraping and clawing to show their kids a better way. We think that's exactly what everybody had in mind when people were talking about welfare reform.
JOAN LAWRENCE: What would be the point of getting rid of the entitlement to welfare and then replace it with another entitlement that would grow and grow for childcare? I don't think the public wants that. I certainly don't want it. What we're doing is teaching people, trying to help them become self-reliant, and use their own sense of responsibility to manage their family affairs.
BETTY ANN BOWSER: What happens tn the Ohio legislature will be watched carefully by Vanessa Jones, who's almost self-sufficient; by Linda Goosby, who is just starting on the welfare reform path; and by other state legislatures as they grapple with how best to move people off welfare for good.