MAY 21, 1996
Participate in a forum on welfare reform.
The NewsHour's Margaret Warner explains the Wisconsin Works program.
Learn how a pilot version of W-2 worked in Fond du Lac County.
The State of Wisconsin Web site outlining the W-2 program.
After Margaret Warner explains the Wisconsin Works -- the program created by Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson that requires welfare recipients to work and, supposedly, will reduce welfare rolls -- she discusses welfare reform with two Wisconsin legislators and two national experts.
MARGARET WARNER: We discuss all this now with two Wisconsin legislators and two national welfare experts. John Gard is a Republican state representative and author of the Wisconsin Works legislation. Gwendolynne Moore is a Democratic state senator representing Milwaukee. Robert Rector works on welfare issues at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington think tank, and Jodie Levin-Epstein does the same at the Center for Law and Social Policy, a Washington research group. Welcome all of you. John Gard, let's start with you, and give us a little better sense of the success of this pilot program that you now want to stay--take statewide. Is every able-bodied welfare recipient in those two counties now working?
JOHN GARD, Wisconsin State Representative: (Milwaukee, WI) Well, they all have work requirements, and I think what we are trying to do is move towards a policy where there is no alternative to work, and for a long time we've had jobs programs and all kinds of training programs but people still got a check if they didn't participate. That's the difference now. The situation we have in Fondulac County and in another county in Wisconsin is a two-year limit where people realize there is a light at the end of the tunnel, they have a responsibility to improve their, their situation within two years. We're having tremendous success, about an almost 70 percent reduction in the last couple of years in that county, and it's a good model to work--
MARAGARET WARNER: I'm sorry, reduction in what?
REP. JOHN GARD: In the case load of AFDC, a lot of the folks have moved in to work, and we've seen tremendous success with people moving into private sector work, and it's a good model for us to move forward on statewide and hopefully other places in the country.
MARAGARET WARNER: Sen. Moore, you don't like the program, I gather. Give us your assessment of how it's worked so far.
GWENDOLYNNE MOORE, Wisconsin State Senator: (Milwaukee, WI) Well, I think you can do anything you want with statistics. There was a great deal of feedback from these two counties, Fondulac and Pierce, and even with the low unemployment rate that they experienced there, they have seen major problems with the welfare program. I think the, the problem that I have is that the distribution of AFDC recipients in Wisconsin is, is not the same. Here in the area that I represent, Milwaukee, we have 50 percent of the AFDC case load. And of course we have the preponderance of people of color living there. All bets are off by any credible research that has been done that we will be able to provide the private sector jobs to enable people to really work themselves off welfare and into an employment situation. Here in Milwaukee, we're about 53,000 jobs short of job seekers, so that as the Wisconsin Works proposal is constructed, 75 percent of the AFDC recipients will be working in sub-minimum wage taxpayer-financed jobs as opposed to a laudable goal of getting them into private sector jobs.
MARAGARET WARNER: Let me get Rep. Gard just to come in on that one point. What about her point, Representative, that, that in a place like Milwaukee, where unemployment is already much higher, it's going to be very hard to find true private sector jobs?
REP. JOHN GARD: Well, in the W-2 plan that we have now--
MARAGARET WARNER: That's this Wisconsin Works.
REP. JOHN GARD: The Wisconsin Works plan, what we're sending forward to President Clinton, there are two options there: private sector work or public sector work, but everybody who asks the taxpayers for aid is going to have to work. There are thousands and thousands of jobs in this state and all across this country that go unfilled because people have an alternative to work. We can argue back and forth, and Sen. Moore and I always do, about the number of jobs that area available. I believe there's lots and lots of jobs available, and that work is always better than not working and getting just a government check.
MARAGARET WARNER: Senator, if the jobs were available for the sake of argument, then would you agree with Rep. Gard that it is better for even welfare mothers to be working?
SEN. GWENDOLYNNE MOORE: Well, you know, the whole--the whole notion of Work Not Welfare came from welfare recipients, themselves. They coined that phrase 30 years ago. People do want to work but right now the value of minimum wage is at a 40 year low, and so the notion that a mom with two, three kids is going to be able to work for $4.25 an hour and only be given 30 hours' of wages under W-2 really flies in the face of all the rhetoric around self-sufficiency and moving yourself out of poverty. There is no welfare recipient with any good sense and good character who would turn down the opportunity to provide themselves and their children with, with meaningful work if, if there were such a thing, and to say, as Rep. Gard has said, to be cynical and say, we're going to take away the safety net for children so as to force people into the low-wage work force, below minimum wage work force, is, is--that's a smoking gun. I think he said it all.
MARAGARET WARNER: Rep. Gard, your answer to that.
REP. JOHN GARD: Well, first of all, the jobs we are offering here and the requirements we have, when you add up all the benefits the taxpayers are making available to the families involved in the program, when you add up the child care, medical care, food stamps, earned income tax credit, and the wages that they are going to be making, they are going to be doing much better than the people they're going to go work right next to on an assembly line or in a restaurant or whatever. Then you have to think about what is the best long-term interests for these families. Our belief of the overwhelming majority in both houses of the legislature and with Gov. Thompson is that people do better if they are involved in work. And you can't get a higher-paid job with no work history, and that's been the failure of our existing program. We've been holding out some great hope that somewhere down the road people are going to walk into these wonderfully high-paid jobs with no work history. That fails, and it hurts families, and that's why we're moving forward with mandatory work requirements which the President, which Congress, and which our legislature and governor has been embracing for a long time, but now we're at the point where the rubber must meet the road. You have to end the entitlement if you're serious about getting people into work, and that's what we're trying to do with W-2.
MARAGARET WARNER: All right. Senator, I want to come right back to you, but let me get the national picture in here just for a minute, and, and Jodie, let me start with you. How representative is Wisconsin in terms of other states in absolutely requiring work, or trying to absolutely require work?
JODIE LEVIN-EPSTEIN, Center for Law and Social Policy: There is a consensus in the country, and we see this in the waivers being submitted by many states, and the Clinton administration has approved waivers from 38 states to date, that the AFDC system needs to focus on work. I don't think that's the question. The issue is how are we going to focus on work, what are we going to do to achieve work and protect those who can't get jobs, and protect children whose parents are unable to work. What we see in the Wisconsin proposal is three fundamental issues that are raised for the first time. This is not even getting into any of the details of program design. Those three questions are: No. 1, under current law, if a family meets the eligibility requirements that the state--the state establishes, the state is responsible for assuring some assistance, some subsistence assistance to that fragile family. That would be abandoned. It's saying the government will abandon those families. The second issue is under time limits, and many states have different kinds of time limits. Under the time limit proposal in Wisconsin, Wisconsin would abandon families again who meet the time limit but have met every other single requirement imposed on that family during that period of time. The third issue, and this is something we have not seen anywhere, is the state treats disabled families differently than under--other families. Everybody's required to work. Those least able will get the least assistance from the state. That is something that's dramatic. It's compelling to the American people, I would think, that we would be seeing those who are least able to work getting the least help.
MARAGARET WARNER: What's your assessment of the Wisconsin proposal and how it fits into what's going on nationally?
ROBERT RECTOR, Heritage Foundation: Well, I think it's important to recognize that Tommy Thompson does the impossible. I've been in this field for over 15 years and everything that Tommy Thompson has done in welfare reform in the last half decade, the whole welfare industry, the whole liberal establishment says you can't do it. You can't find jobs, you cannot cut case load by 30 to 50 percent, which has happened throughout the state, you can't have this type of reform without vastly expanding the amount of money spent on the welfare system. Those were all the things we were told in advance, that Tommy Thompson simply could not do what he has now shown that he can do. In many of the counties throughout Wisconsin, there's been a 50 percent drop in case load simply because the governor said and the state legislature said we want people to work, not be dependent. And that's great for kids because welfare dependence is very harmful for kids. I know, and I have perfect confidence looking at the Wisconsin plan, that Tommy Thompson is going to prove the nay-sayers wrong again. They said in the first place he couldn't do what he's already done. He's going to in and he's going to have another significant reform, and the case load is going to drop again dramatically.
MARAGARET WARNER: Let me get Sen. Moore, just quickly on this one point, because several people have said now the case load has dropped by 44, 50, or 70 percent. What's happened to those people who have gone off the welfare rolls in your state?
SEN. GWENDOLYNNE MOORE: Well, I think the last speaker really has raised some interesting questions. Where--what is happening with these people? The latest welfare initiative, for example, will pay for performance. He brags about 2200 people in Milwaukee getting off of welfare. He's literally thrown them in the streets. These folks have, have been called up by their social workers, given a letter on Friday, your sanctioned, and they're off on Monday. I know people who have become homeless, have had to move in with other relatives. This is what's happening to people. It's not that they're getting any great jobs. In terms of all the benefits that people receive under these welfare programs, absolutely not the case whatsoever. W-2 is designed--
MARAGARET WARNER: This is the new program.
SEN. GWENDOLYNNE MOORE: Yeah--to give 75 percent of the welfare recipients below minimum wages. They will not be able to access the earned income tax credit, the program that's really associated with helping people achieve that self-sufficiency. We have other state programs like Homestead Tax Credit, which is housing assistance, which 75 percent of these recipients will not be able to receive.
MARAGARET WARNER: Okay. Let me get back to this--this other program.
SEN. GWENDOLYNNE MOORE: Well, Learn Fare, it's been a miserable failure. We've spent millions and millions of dollars and I think that those who have been following this issue and read the New York Times last week said yet another--
MARAGARET WARNER: Well, Senator, we can't discuss all these programs, and I want to get back to one overall point that has been raised earlier. And let me ask you this: What would it cost, do you think, to actually provide the kind of child care and health benefits that would be required to enable people who had children to go to work?
JODIE LEVIN-EPSTEIN: The Congressional Budget Office, when it was doing estimates on earlier bills, projected that it would cost roughly $6,000 per slot for child care costs and other associated costs to provide a work position.
MARAGARET WARNER: $6,000--
JODIE LEVIN-EPSTEIN: So you'd multiply that--
MARAGARET WARNER: --per slot.
JODIE LEVIN-EPSTEIN: --per person.
MARAGARET WARNER: Do you agree with that?
ROBERT RECTOR: That's exactly the sort of conventional wisdom that proves over and over again that you can't change this system. The reality is that when you apply serious work requirements, the reductions in case loads are sufficient to more than pay for day care costs. That's what's happened in Wisconsin. And even we can set that aside. Half of the AFDC mothers nationwide don't have any preschool kids, and none of them are required to work. Why don't we start with them, but even President Clinton, that's too far for him, it's too much of an aggressive change, and so he vetoes bills that require less than half of the case load to work with a focus on older mothers, and then complains about lack of day care. It doesn't make any sense.
MARAGARET WARNER: Ms. Levin-Epstein, let me ask you about two new--they're not new proposals Sen. Dole made, not new new, but new to the Presidential political debate. One was to let states require drug testing for welfare recipients, and the other was to have them toughen enforcement of the statutory rape laws. How do you feel about those two proposals?
JODIE LEVIN-EPSTEIN: There is nothing new in those proposals, as you were saying. In fact, the Clinton administration has under consideration at least five state waivers to provide for drug testing and drug treatment, so I'm not quite sure what President--
MARAGARET WARNER: Do you think they're effective?
JODIE LEVIN-EPSTEIN: We don't yet know if they're effective, because they haven't been in place long enough to make any kinds of judgments. I think what is appropriate is for the welfare agency to work together with the drug abuse agency in finding appropriate strategies for assisting families that are facing these kinds of problems, and that's what we're seeing in these waivers that are fairly well developed and along the way, so I don't think there's anything really new under the sun in terms of what Sen. Dole is suggesting in that arena.
MARAGARET WARNER: Bob Rector, what's your view of those?
ROBERT RECTOR: I think that welfare shouldn't be a one-way handout. A good welfare system requires responsible behavior from the people receiving assistance from the taxpayers, and I'd say the first area of responsibility is that if you're a parent, you shouldn't be using drugs. You shouldn't be using drugs if you're pregnant, you have a child coming. I think it's a--it's a good thing for both the recipient and society to require testing.
MARAGARET WARNER: All right. Let me get our two Wisconsin representatives to comment briefly on the drug testing issue. Rep. Gard.
REP. JOHN GARD: Well, I think our focus here has to be on work. Many, many of the welfare recipients who are going into work right now are drug tested when they go to work for their private employers. In some cases, it is appropriate--if they're pregnant, have a history of drug abuse, the state should be given the flexibility to test to make sure that some of these children are not being put at risk, but the main focus is work and re-establishing the values that I think the taxpayers are demanding of government social programs.
MARAGARET WARNER: Sen. Moore, you have the last word on this drug testing idea.
SEN. GWENDOLYNNE MOORE: Well, I think that employers already have the ability to test folk in the work place. It would depend on what the thrust and focus of the drug testing is. If it were designed to be a part of an employee assistance program to enable people to overcome their dependency, I think that would be appropriate. There is not a dime that has been put in this bill. As a matter of fact, under W-2, they would limit AODD treatment under W-2.
MARAGARET WARNER: I'm sorry. What kind of treatment?
SEN. GWENDOLYNNE MOORE: Alcohol and Other Drug Dependency. Under, under this bill. I think that the whole point of this initiative is to--is political, it is to characterize AFDC recipients as stereotypical criminals, and to further marginalize them. And I haven't heard any word about--and I'm--
MARAGARET WARNER: I'm sorry, Senator, we are going to have to leave it there, but thank you both very much--
SEN. GWENDOLYNNE MOORE: Thank you.
MARAGARET WARNER: --in Wisconsin. And thank you both here.