NEW WELFARE SYSTEM: DAY 1
OCTOBER 1, 1996
Reforms, signed into law in August ending federal welfare guarantees, are now in effect. The NewsHour looks at how states, who must now devise their own plans, will cope. Elizabeth Brackett in Wisconsin, Paul Solman in New York and Jeffrey Kaye in California report.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Welfare as an entitlement ended here today. Fashawn Brown found that applying for welfare is now a lot more like looking for a job than looking for a check.
A RealAudio version of of this NewsHour segment is available.
October 1, 1996:
How states must now devise their own plans: Elizabeth Brackett in Wisconsin, Paul Solman in New York, and Jeffrey Kaye in California, report.
Read a special Online NewsHour backgrounder on the wide range of issues -- and tight deadlines -- states face when crafting new welfare programs.
July 31, 1996:
Three members of Congress discuss the politics between the new welfare reform bill passed this year.
May 21, 1996:
Two state legislators and two national Welfare experts debate the merits of the Wisconsin Works, or W-2, welfare reform program, often held up as a model for national welfare reform.
Browse the Online NewsHour's welfare coverage.
SPOKESPERSON: And what are your plans to become economically independent, in other words, what are your plans to support yourself thatís currently right now for the future or--
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Wisconsin began moving mothers from welfare to work six years ago with pilot programs like the one here in Kenosha County.
SPOKESPERSON: It will be mandatory to participate in our jobs program.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: So when federal welfare reform legislation was signed in August, Wisconsin was ready. The stateís plan was approved by the Clinton administration yesterday, and today the clock started ticking on the five-year, lifetime benefit limit for recipients. Larry Jankowski has the contract in Kenosha County to run the jobs program that is at the core of the Wisconsin plan, a plan that requires every adult welfare recipient to work.
LARRY JANKOWSKI, Jobs Program Manager: Some say itís great because most people by and large when they come to apply for public welfare donít want to do that. They really would much rather be employed and self-sufficient. Um, theyíre surprised, however, when the check doesnít--isnít automatic, when there are some participatory requirements.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Brown thinks those requirements are fair.
FASHAWN BROWN, Welfare Applicant: I think so because if they help you with child care , it really shouldnít be a problem if you really want to work.
MS. FARNSWORTH: The federal law calls for getting 25 percent of caseloads into jobs a year from today. Wisconsin is already way ahead of that. Caseloads have been cut in half since Gov. Tommy Thompson began reforming welfare in 1987. And the state will take it even further when the plan approved today, called Wisconsin Works, begins in September.
LARRY JANKOWSKI: The Wisconsin Works program basically cuts out the entitlement to public, public aid, and it substitutes participation activities. It makes work a requirement, the only way any payments flow from the government to the individual is based upon actual productive labor. Youíre in a community service job or in a subsidized private sector job, or in something we call transitional job.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: The new plan requires women to begin work when their children are 12 weeks old. Those who canít find work must take non-paying community service jobs in return for a flat grant of about $500. The grant will not be increased if another child is born and a portion of child care must be paid from the grant. Welfare mother Joy Mane worries about having to leave her children.
JOY MANE, Welfare Recipient: Well, the children just need to be home with their mom at that time. Theyíre--they just need to be. Thereís no question about it. Mothers, single parents are the only thing these children have. Okay. Iím a single mom. My boys have only me. Thereís no one else.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Mane has turned to welfare rights activist Pat Gowens for help.
PAT GOWENS, Welfare Warriors: Requiring a mother to work for that check, first of all, completely disregards the fact that she is already involved in mother work. If they donít find a job on their own, theyíre sent in to free work, where they become actually enslaved by an employer who has no obligation to either pay a salary, take out Social Security, or pay Social Security to the government, cover them for workersí comp.
JUDITH WESEMAN, Wisconsin Human Services Dept.: I view community service jobs not as slave jobs but as a way for people to participate to the best of their ability to participate.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Judith Weseman heads the Human Services Department for Kenosha County. She says she does worry about the new programís impact on children. But she says welfare recipients must break the cycle of dependency and function in the real world, where a person must work to get a check.
JUDITH WESEMAN: And there are people who say things like this free money is just getting harder and harder to get. There are people who donít understand that welfare is, indeed, changing, in spite of being told that a number of times; they arenít understanding that they need to change their behaviors.
ELIZABETH BRACKETT: Only Wisconsin and Michigan have approved welfare plans. Other states will have a chance to gauge the results here as they submit their own versions of how to aid the poor.