How Are We Faring With Welfare? - May 2001

Denver Women's Commission
How Are We Faring With Welfare? - May 2001

May 2, 2001
Prepared by Chaer Robert
For Colorado Woman News

How Are We Faring With Welfare?

What is the measure of success? In the first three years since Colorado reformed our welfare system, the number of single parents and their children on Temporary Assistance to Needy Families has decrease by 70%. When you add in two-parent families and “child-only cases” who live with other relatives, our caseload has dropped 51%.

On the flip side, only 20% of those who have left Colorado Works—Colorado’s TANF program-- have earnings above the poverty level at the end of a year. When you add in child support and alimony and other family earnings, the figure rises to 35%. Yet even “poverty level”---$14,630 for a family of three—is far from self-sufficient. Among those who left TANF at the end of 1998, 32% were continuously employed for a year; 38% were employed sporadically; 30% were not employed after leaving Colorado Works

The picture brightens for those who were able to keep their jobs. After one year, earnings increased 15%, after two years--37%. So how can we help those transitioning from welfare to work sustain employment? Providing more post-employment supports-- financially, emotionally and in the form of transitional services-- is key. That has been the focus of state legislation this year.

Possibly the most significant bill passed the year was HB 1004 – Increasing the Earned Income Disregards by Rep. Lynn Hefley. It was a top recommendation from the Governor's Welfare Reform Committee, Co-Chaired by Treasurer Mike Coffman—who sponsored Colorado’s welfare reform legislation—and Steff Clothier of Catholic Charities. Previously, a woman lost TANF as soon as she took virtually any job. Under this bill, two-thirds of her income for the first year after employment will not count against her eligibility for TANF. This would allow Human Services to work with her longer into her employment, helping her meet the new challenges created by working. This extra help has its price—the extra time on TANF would count against her 5-year lifetime limit.

Most women (65%) leaving TANF do not use the subsidized child care program; 39% do not get transitional Medicaid. Rep. Betty Boyd’s HB 1234 encourages counties to conduct exit interviews. Through this process, more women would find out about transitional benefits and programs that could help them on the job. Information from the interviews would be incorporated into the annual audit. Rep. Tochtrop’s HB 1022 was also recommended by the Governor’s Welfare Reform Committee. In its original form, it eliminated the requirement that families be Medicaid eligible for 3 of the last 6 months to qualify for transitional Medicaid benefits. Today’s fast-tracking into employment does not allow many recipients to remain on TANF until they qualify for one year of transitional Medicaid. Only half of employed ex-TANF recipients studied had access to health insurance through their employer. The bill also streamlined the eligibility reporting. But because of the bill’s cost, it was amended into an encouragement that counties assist clients in obtaining transitional Medicaid.

Most women (85%) on TANF face one or more barrier to getting and keeping a job. Most common (in order) are: mental/emotional health, housing, child care, transportation, health problems, lack of job skills, domestic violence, family member substance abuse and their own substance abuse.

Working with the Colorado Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Colorado Center for Law and Policy asked Rep. Jennifer Veiga’s to amend her bill on domestic violence to require the state to provide ongoing domestic violence training and material to county Human Services staff. Victims of domestic should qualify for waivers from some of the requirements of the TANF program. One fourth of TANF recipients face barriers related to domestic violence. Only 15 % of those with domestic violence barriers receive services. This bill would facilitate relationships between local domestic violence service providers and county departments of Human Services, so that more domestic violence victims actually receive services.

Caseloads have plummeted. Much of the money earmarked to help those on welfare sits unused. Yet poverty and needs remain. To address this, and help create additional community resources to address the various barriers, Rep. Debbie Stafford’s HB 1169 relaxes some of the paperwork requirements for counties to contract with community organizations, while, hopefully, requiring programmatic and fiscal accountability.

Should the measure of our success be caseload reduction? Or does that just say our state is helping far fewer families in need. The truer measure would be increased earning capacity, and family well being.