|FROM WELFARE TO WORK|
March 15, 1999
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Officials in the state of Illinois are bragging about people like Yavanous Jackson. Jackson was on welfare for over five years. But now she's earning almost $8 an hour working at the post office.
YAVANOUS JACKSON: It made a big difference because, I mean, when I was on public assistance, I only received a certain amount and I had to like really budget. I couldn't do the things I wanted to do for the children and for myself, so I have a job now so I can do more things for myself. I have extra money to do the things they like to do and what I like to do.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Despite the challenges of finding transportation and good day care for her two children, Jackson says her life is better now that she's working.
YAVANOUS JACKSON: Sometimes it was to the point where I couldn't like, where -- where am I going to get the money to pay for this and where am I going to get the money to pay for that? But now I don't have to think like that any more. I know that I'll go to work everyday. When my rent is due, I have to pay when my rent is due. I mean, I have a phone bill I can pay that. I can pay all my expenses and still have some money left.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Jackson is one of 3.8 million Americans who have left the rolls since President Clinton signed the welfare reform bill in 1996. Aid to Families with Dependent Children, or AFDC, became Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF. The new program sets a five-year time limit for benefits. In Illinois, about 25 percent of its recipients have left the rolls since the state implemented its welfare to work program. Howard Peters heads Illinois' Department of Human Services or DHS.
HOWARD PETERS: I think Illinois has done very well. The goal was to help independency and help parents move towards self-sufficiency and greater independence, put them in a better position to care for their children. And I think it has gone very well. Over 45,000 families have worked their way off of welfare, and in Illinois when we talk about working your way off welfare, we're talking about a family earning at least three times as much as they would have if they were just taking a welfare check.
|Is welfare reform increasing poverty?|
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: In Illinois, when welfare recipients start working, their assistance checks are supposed to be cut only $1 for every $3 they earn. Under the old system they lost dollar for dollar. Illinois also is unusual in that it stops the five-year time limit clock and the state picks up the tab for clients who work at least 25 hours a week. So the Department says that -- in addition to those who have left the rolls - 40 percent of TANF clients are working their way off welfare. John Boaman is an attorney who represents people on welfare. He agrees that there's been an impressive exodus from the welfare rolls, but he says more families lose their benefits for disciplinary reasons than because they have found work.
JOHN BOAMAN: Every month, there is a nice number of people who are cut off of benefits because of employment. They've worked their way all the way off welfare. On the other hand, though, you've got what are called administrative terminations that are two times more every month than the terminations for employment. Those are just flat out cut-offs, without really any warning. There is a notice that goes out, but without the sanction and good cause process. That is being increasingly used by case workers I think as a shortcut for -- to achieve case load reduction.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: According to Illinois' own figures, 4,680 cases were canceled last December because the family was earning income. But more than 8,000 cases were canceled the same month because of non-compliance. Advocates for the homeless say increasing numbers of those cases wind up in a homeless shelter like this one. Pamela Grimes and her three children had been in this city-run shelter for women and families for a month when we saw them. Grimes said her benefits were cut when she failed to show up at a job training program arranged by her caseworker.
PAMELA GRIMES: I had told her that my mother had got sick and I didn't have nobody to keep my children because she had got sick. She had told me I'd be cut off.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: What did she say when you told her that your mother had gotten sick?
PAMELA GRIMES: She said, well try to get somebody else to keep them. I said, but I don't have anybody else to keep them. She said well you will be cut off -- and I am. I am cut off.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: So when that happened, you could no longer pay rent?
PAMELA GRIMES: Nope, and I got evicted from my property. That is why I'm here at the shelter.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Secretary Peters says that's not the way the system is supposed to work.
SECRETARY PETERS: There's a whole series of opportunities for a person to reconcile, eliminate the problem before they ever get into sanction or getting off welfare. Now if they absolutely refuse, and in America people have a free will, we're talking about adults who can say "I don't want to go to treatment, I don't want to go to training, I'm not doing it, either send me free money with no obligations, or I'm out." Well, we're not going to send people free money without obligation because good things don't happen as a result of that.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Good things have not happened to Mary Ricks and her three children. They too were at the people reaching out shelter when we spoke with them. Ricks lost her benefits when she failed to comply with strict work requirements for those with older children. Ricks' seventeen-year-old daughter, Shastidy, says her mom has tried her best to support the family--and that DHS should be a little more understanding.
SHASTIDY RICKS: All I can say is that people make a lot of judgments on how other people have done things before. And I'm not trying to give excuses for the people, because you know there are people that manage to cheat the system. But I think every case is different and when I mean they come to you and they have proof that this is where we stay, we don't have an apartment of our own-I think depending on the circumstances, they should be a little bit more lenient. It shouldn't have to be that way, but they are. A lot of those people my mother tells me, they are mean and they yell at you and they don't know how to compromise. And it's hard when everything in your life is compromised.
SHELTER OPERATOR: This woman is homeless because she tried; she couldn't make it.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: This group of shelter operators were being trained by the Coalition for the Homeless to respond to a national survey to determine how many of their clients had been on welfare.
COALITION FOR THE HOMELESS STAFF MEMBER: I know exactly where they're going, and that's why we want to do the survey, so we can say, you know, whatever happened to people moving off rolls; they're becoming homeless; we want to have the evidence to show that.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Jim Lewis, a researcher for the Urban League, says there's strong evidence to suggest that there are more people living in poverty as a result of welfare reform.
JIM LEWIS: I think there is a question there on a national level whether the welfare reform process--because it in part it took those benefits away from people and some of those people who went into jobs didn't hold them and some of them may have gotten jobs ultimately that pay less than their benefits would have been. There are more people potentially in poverty now than ever before. If you measure this in terms of the general interest being lifting people out of poverty, at this moment the numbers are less favorable.
|Getting - and keeping - a job.|
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: One reason the numbers look less favorable is that many former recipients first enter the work force just making the minimum wage -- and they often lose those jobs within the first few months. That happened to 23-year-old Tamara Rufus. She has had three minimum wage jobs, all lasting less than a month, since she began trying to work her way off welfare. Trying to find child care for her six year old daughter often tripped her up.
TAMARA RUFUS: At that time, I didn't know nobody in this complex at all, so when I was working there, I would have to leave here, go way to my mom's house, drop her off, come way back over here, go to work, go way back to my mom's house, pick her up, way back here and come home.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: So how long did that last?
TAMARA RUFUS: Like I said, that wasn't even a whole -- about 5-6 weeks. Not even too long. I got three checks I think.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Rufus hopes to break the cycle of going from one low-wage job to the next with the help of Project Match, a privately funded welfare-to-work program. Project Director Toby Herr says they have learned that many welfare recipients need a great deal of individualized support as they try- and often fail- to hold on to jobs.
TOBY HERR: I would say what we do best, is what we call reemployment -- that is when someone loses a job, getting them back in here fast, talking to them, not treating it as a major failure, just treating it as a learning experience and getting them back out in the work force fast.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: It was working for Rufus when we followed her. She had found more stable child care and was making the hour and a half commute to a training program for reservations agents run by Marriott Hotels. The training program pays $7.15 an hour with good chance for advancement. Rufus says she couldn't have done it without help from Project Match and she worries about recipients who only have DHS caseworkers to help them.
TAMARA RUFUS: I pray for them and their kids, because it's hard, it's real hard. I mean, it's not so much hard as getting out there, finding the jobs. I mean--when you're under that much pressure, knowing that you have kids to take care of, that you have bills to take care of, that you know without you, your household is nothing. I mean, that's a lot of stress on you.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Cases like Rufus's have so impressed DHS that it is looking at a program designed by Project Match called Pathways as a potential model for hard to serve clients.
HOWARD PETERS: A model that really helps prepare these parents for work before they're sent out on a job; and that's really the strength of what we're buying into, that it's a really intense, kind of, encounter group effort that really causes a parent to look at his or her situation and figure out what I need to do in order to advance to the next step.
PATHWAYS STAFF MEMBER: Every month, we're going to go through the diaries that are in front of you.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: At this first Pathways meeting for the Department of Human Services, clients are asked to lay out their goals. The philosophy behind the program is that there are different pathways to ultimately entering the work force.
WOMAN: OK, but, say I can't -- I can't really plan really this month because I found out my daughter is asthmatic. So?
PATHWAYS STAFF MEMBER: The plan will be what you have to do with her for her asthma. That's the plan then.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Whatever the plan, clients will be closely monitored along the way.
TOBY HERR: In this system what we're saying is taking kids to activities, being on the Policy Committee at a Head Start, volunteering at your kids school, even getting your kids to scouts -- all of those things count. And they're steps along the way. You don't do them forever, but you do them to help you stabilize, to help you get organized, to help you build confidence and then you just keep moving on to the next step.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: And with the clock ticking on recipients' five-year time limit to receive benefits, welfare officials will continue to look for innovative approaches that get the hard core clients off the rolls and on the road to self sufficiency.