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Testimony on DHSS' Welfare Reform Legislation by Olivia Golden
Commissioner, Administration on Children, Youth and Families
Administration for Children and Families
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Before the House Committee on Ways and Means, Subcommittee on Human Resources
September 17, 1996

Good morning Mr. Chairman and members of the Committee. As the Commissioner of the Administration on Children, Youth and Families in the Department of Health and Human Services, I am pleased to appear before you today to provide an overview of the Department's implementation of the new welfare reform legislation--the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996.

The Administration for Children and Families is responsible for administering several of the programs most affected by this historic legislation, including: the new temporary assistance program for needy families; the child care programs for families on welfare and other low-income working families; and the child support enforcement program.

In my testimony today, I will spend much of my time addressing implementation of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, as requested by the Committee. I would like to also briefly discuss the new child care provisions and will defer discussion of the child support enforcement provisions until Thursday when you will be devoting an entire hearing to that topic. Since the legislation was signed by the President only 26 days ago, I want to focus most on the process we have undertaken to facilitate implementation. Because of the bill's early effective dates and the extraordinary interest throughout the country in moving forward on welfare reform, officials at all levels of government are very busy. At the federal level, officials from the numerous departments affected by this legislation are working together to ensure coordinated assistance to the states.

In the few weeks since enactment, we have had numerous conversations with many of our State partners. These conversations have made it clear that there is much work to be done by all of us to ensure that implementation of this new law results in welfare reform that indeed encourages work, promotes parental responsibility, and protected; children.

State Implementation Activities

States have been given a tremendous amount of flexibility under this welfare reform legislation to design a program which provides assistance to needy families and helps them to find jobs and become self-sufficient as quickly as possible. Because State plans can be filed at any time prior to July 1, 1997, most States are currently sorting through the complexities of the bill and the variety of options and opportunities available to them. In some cases, they are struggling to determine the statutory expectations. In addition, many studies are anxious to implement the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families provisions as soon as possible because most states will benefit financially from an accelerated implementation.

In the midst of tremendous time pressures, states are doubly challenged to make sure that their programs are thoughtfully planned. The legislation presents the opportunity for them to explore new administrative arrangements and to develop new linkages with other service delivery systems. It also presents them with the opportunity to develop a more integrated and individualized approach to serving needy families. We are advising states that they may adjust their programs and submit plan amendments as they move further along in the implementation process.

The Changing National Perspective and the New Federal Role

While much of the action has indeed shifted to the states, we are working hard both in Washington and in our regional offices to help the states and tribes achieve a smooth and effective transition to these new programs.

The legislation provides us with a great opportunity to make welfare a transitional system, rather than a way of life. We can reward states for their success in moving people from welfare to work, not merely for how well they get the checks out. Many more parents can participate in work opportunities and obtain the safe and healthy child care they need to protect their children while they go to work.

We are at the center of a major transformation in the nature of the federal-state partnership. States now assume primary responsibility for ensuring that the welfare system works. States have the authority and the flexibility to design programs which meet their individual needs. The legislation gives them much more opportunity to respond creatively and individually to the highly diverse needs of their children and families.

In return for this new authority and flexibility, the legislation holds states more accountable for program performance. It includes a variety of provisions -- on penalties, performance-based funding, data collection and reporting, and research and evaluation -- designed both to ensure accountability and promote performance.

At the federal level, we will be, monitoring state performance and program implementation. Among our first responsibilities will be to review the new TANF plans to ensure that they are complete -- that they include the necessary certifications and descriptions of how the state will serve needy families, help them move into work, and provide for fair and equitable treatment. These plans are a critical tool-- both in terms of ensuring that states are focusing on the issues that need to be decided as they design their new programs, and as a mechanism for informing the citizens of each state about how, and to whom, services will be provided under these new programs.

Later, as required by the new statute, we will be ranking states according to their performance, identifying and studying the high performers and low performers, providing an overall assessment of the legislation's impact on children and families, and tracking child poverty. We will work to ensure that the new programs help families get quickly trough the hard times back into the mainstream of society. We also monitor what is happening so we can identify any potential harmful effects.

One of our other major roles will be to administer the financial reduction provisions found in the new section 409 of the Social Security Act. Under these provisions, we will be focusing on state compliance with a number of key statutory requirements, including child support enforcement, data reporting, participation rates, and Maintenance of effort. Here, we will be working, in consultation with our State partners, to clarify the expectations on the states, and the availability of good cause exceptions, etc. In this way, we will be able to ensure that any financial reductions are applied consistently.

We will also assume major new responsibilities for compiling and disseminating information. As tie number of program options available to states grows exponentially, states will need more and better information about the implications of their choices. The new law gives us tools we need to develop such information. We look forward to working with the states in employing these tools and sharing what we learn with partners.

Finally, we will have a much expanded role in working with tribes, who can now decide to implement their own cash assistance programs. While the legislation seems to present tribes with tremendous new opportunities to exercise their sovereignty and serve their own people, tribal representatives have expressed a number of concerns about the potential impact of this legislation. Many tribes have indicated that they may not wish to make a final decision about applying to participate in TANF until states reveal their TANF plans, Thus, it may be some time before we know the extent of tribal Participation in this program.

Our Earliest Activities

Over the past several weeks, we have been working very hard to ensure that we are in a position to meet our responsibilities under the legislation and to facilitate implementation of the bill at the state and community level. one of our first priorities has been to disseminate Information on the amounts of TANF and child care funds that states and tribes can receive and how they can access that money. Thus, we prepared and distributed allocation tables for both child care and TANF, and have sent out instructions on how to apply for the FY 1997 "mandatory" child care funds. In addition, we distributed for comment a draft guide which states could use to develop their TANF plans.

Because the new child care provisions have an effective date of October 1, we have made it a priority to provide guidance immediately. Within one week of enactment of the bill, letters were sent to all state welfare commissioners and state Child Care and Development Block Grant lead agencies outlining a simplified process under which states can begin receiving funding in order to be able to operate a more unified child care system.

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act also created a new, integrated child care program under the Child Care and Development Block Grant. This program unites three child care funding streams in a way that validates the early effort of many states to construct a unified, seamless child care system out of multiple programs that often had conflicting rules. This program offers an unparalleled opportunity to serve children and their parents for whom child care is a critical element in family growth, stability and self-sufficiency.

At the same time, we have entered into numerous discussions with state and tribal officials, and their representatives, to learn about their major concerns and questions. With my regional office staff, I have participated in Conference calls with officials from every state; several key members of my staff and I participated in the national APWA/NGA/NCSL meetings last week in Washington; we will be participating in all the upcoming regional APWA technical assistance meetings. in addition, we sponsored our own meetings with state child call administrators last week; and we will be sponsoring a major meeting with tribal leaders later this month.

Through forums, program instructions, and other vehicles, we are working to address the most critical questions and concerns. Because of the bill's complexity and the hundreds of questions which it has evoked, we are focusing on the questions which affect state implementation decision and deferring response on some of the others. And we are identifying operational and technical issues which might be addressed through legislative proposals, program guidance or other avenues.

As we deal with some of the most pressing issues, we are also working to refine our implementation plans and schedules. These activities help us ensure that other important provisions of the bill are not neglected, and they help us cope with our shifting workloads and responsibilities.


HHS is committed to the successful implementation of this legislation. We will provide the leadership necessary to ensure that the legislation gets the attention it is due as states work on the myriad details of program design and implementation.

We are also committed to working with our state and tribal partners to ensure that the information we gather will serve their needs and help promote the goals of the legislation. We will consult with them extensively as we work to develop data collection and information requirements and regulations, performance measures, and research and evaluation strategies. Through this process, we will strive to ensure that the changes that result from this legislation are positive and work for the good of children, families, and communities.

I will be happy to answer your questions at this time.

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