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Testimony on Adoption and Welfare to Work by Olivia A. Golden
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
February 13, 1997

The Welfare-to-Work initiative reaffirms and strengthens the work commitment of last year's landmark welfare reform legislation and responds to what the President cites as "our moral obligation, to make sure that people who now must work can work. The adoption initiative focuses special attention on the needs of some of our most vulnerable citizens -- children languishing in foster care -- who deserve safe and permanent families. I will address each initiative in a few moments.

First, however, I would like to touch on our progress in implementing welfare reform. I believe it is the cornerstone to realizing our key goals of work, responsibility and protecting children.

I will close my testimony by briefly addressing problems in the welfare reform legislation that are harmful to immigrants and that have nothing to do with promoting the welfare reform goals of moving people from welfare to work. The President's budget proposes to continue to provide SSI and Medicaid to vulnerable categoration issues to accompany me. Also at the table with me is Ray Uhalde, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Employment and Training in the Department of Labor, who will respond to your questions about Welfare-to-Work.

The President's budget for FY 1998 addresses the needs of children and families in multiple ways that we believe will strengthen families, move people from welfare to work and increase self-sufficiency. The areas you have identified for this hearing are certainly important to this mission. The Welfare-to-Work initiative reaffirms and strengthens the work commitment of last year's landmark welfare reform legislation and responds to what the President cites as "our moral obligation, to make sure that people who now must work can work. The adoption initiative focuses special attention on the needs of some of our most vulnerable citizens -- children languishing in foster care -- who deserve safe and permanent families. I will address each initiative in a few moments.

First, however, I would like to touch on our progress in implementing welfare reform. I believe it is the cornerstone to realizing our key goals of work, responsibility and protecting children.

I will close my testimony by briefly addressing problems in the welfare reform legislation that are harmful to immigrants and that have nothing to do with promoting the welfare reform goals of moving people from welfare to work. The President's budget proposes to continue to provide SSI and Medicaid to vulnerable categories of legal immigrants, especially children and those who become disabled after entry. As the President said in his State of the Union address with respect to his proposed strategy to address these problems, "To do otherwise is simply unworthy of a great nation of immigrants."

Welfare Reform Implementation

The Administration for Children and Families is responsible for administering several of the programs most affected by the welfare reform legislation, including the new Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, child care programs for families on welfare and other low-income working families, and the child support enforcement program. States and the Federal government alike are promptly implementing each of these major pieces of the Act and we are encouraged by the early progress being made.

So far, we have received 42 TANF plans from States, territories, and tribes and 35 have been certified as complete. Many State legislatures are just now coming into session and will be addressing the TANF plans, and we expect new plans from the remaining States and amendments to plans already submitted before the July 1, 1997 implementation deadline.

Welfare reform provides States with great flexibility to ensure that welfare is a transitional system, rather than a way of life. Along with this new authority and flexibility, the new statute holds States more accountable for-program performance. It includes a variety of provisions designed to ensure that States are moving people from welfare to work: penalties, performance based funding, data collection and reporting, and research and evaluation.

On January 31, 1997, because of many States' requests for clarifications, we issued preliminary guidance concerning several issues of immediate concern, most notably the definition of which State expenditures count toward maintenance-of-effort. The guidance also addresses the definitions of "assistance," a key term in determining which expenditures are covered by certain rules, and "eligible families," a key term in determining which State resources count as maintenance-of-effort.

The Clinton Administration is committed to an effective implementation of this historic welfare reform law that transforms the welfare system into one with tough work requirements. We have a great deal of confidence in the States, and we believe that they will use the flexibility in the law to strengthen the focus on work. We will collect all the information we can on how the States are using their dollars and we will take all the administrative actions in our power to ensure that State policies focus on work. We will also work with you and the Governors in a bipartisan fashion to ensure that each State's overall work effort meets the statute's work participation requirements. Specifically, we will seek statutory language making it clear that the calculation of whether a State has met the applicable participation rate shall take into account the State's success in placing participants in both TANF and maintenance of effort programs' work activities. In addition, we will work with the States and Congress to develop legislation, if necessary, to ensure that State flexibility in maintenance of effort programs does not result in costs to the Federal Government due to the potential loss of child support collections.

As part of the development of TANF policy and guidance, we have met and continue to meet-with State and local administrators and legislators and their national representatives. We also have met with advocates, and representatives of non-profit organizations and foundations, organized labor, and business organizations. These consultations have helped us to identify issues, such as the one described above, and to ensure that a wide range of perspectives are considered in the development of policy.

During these meetings we have also heard about the critical importance of child care in enabling people to move from welfare to work. We were pleased that the new law provided a substantial increase in child care funding and increased flexibility for States to design an integrated child care system to serve both families on welfare and low-income working families. We refer to the newly integrated system as the Child Care and Development Fund (CCDF). ACF moved quickly to implement the child care program changes, which became effective October 1, 1996.

Our Child Care Bureau has taken a number of steps to inform prospective grantees and other interested parties about the CCDF and to ensure the earliest possible flow of the new funds in order to provide continuity between the old and new programs. We issued new mandatory and matching funds as soon as they became available and published early policy guidance requested by States. We have held consultations with grantees and other organizations. We now are developing regulations, financial reporting forms, and other data collection forms. We also are planning for the FY 1998 grant cycle, for which States and tribes will submit applications by July 1, 1997.

We are also proud of the progress States have made in child support enforcement. In 1996, we collected a record of almost $12 billion in child support payments, and the comprehensive I provisions in the welfare law are projected to increase child support collections by an additional $24 billion over 10 years.

Implementation of many of these new provisions will require the enactment of State laws. Effective dates of the new requirements vary, but typically fall within 1 to 2 years of enactment.

Therefore, full implementation of the child support provisions will take place over time.

Nevertheless, many States already have implemented some of the new federal requirements. For example, in 1995 the President urged all States to implement license revocation programs. Today 43 States have done so. In addition, 35 States recently have enacted the Uniform Interstate Family Support Act, and 26 States have adopted some form of reporting new hires.

At the federal level, we-have made great progress in making the expanded Federal Parent Locator Service (FPLS) a reality and we anticipate meeting the statutory deadline. Since the enactment of welfare reform, we have entered into contracts with several nationally recognized and respected vendors to help us design and develop the expanded FPLS, manage the project and enhance our quality assurance efforts, and assist us with providing training and technical assistance.

The federal Office of Child Support Enforcement is also providing technical assistance to States in implementing the other child support provisions in welfare reform. We are conducting broad consultation and outreach to program stakeholders to ensure that the promise of the legislation -- a strong child support enforcement program -- is realized.

With respect to the reforms affecting each of these programs, the Administration for Children and Families is committed to working closely with the Congress, the States and localities to ensure that families receive the supports and encouragement they need to move forward with their lives, to engage in work, and to support and nurture their children. I will now turn to the items from the President's budget that are the focus of your invitation -- the adoption and Welfare-to-Work initiatives.

The Adoption Initiative

In his radio address to the nation on December 14th, the President set an ambitious national goal: to double, by the year 2002, the number of children from the foster care system who are adopted or permanently placed annually.

In his directive to HHS on adoption, the President asked us to work with States to set numerical targets to benchmark improvement, provide technical assistance to help States in their efforts, and recognize and reward States for their success with financial incentives. With respect to the latter, we will propose providing, beginning in FY 1999, a per child financial incentive to States for increases in the number of children adopted from the public child welfare system. As we envision it, the incentive structure would result in no net cost, since increased adoptions from the public system would reduce foster care costs. This approach represents another step toward focusing on outcomes for children and families in evaluating the effectiveness of our programs.

The President's FY 1998 budget has requested $10 million to provide technical assistance to the States as they strive to find more children loving and permanent homes. The President has requested an additional $10 million to provide funding to States to identify barriers to permanency and develop targeted strategies to find permanent homes for children who have been in foster care a particularly long time. Finally, he has requested $1 million for the Department of Health and Human Services to embark on a public awareness campaign to highlight the benefits of adoption and increase the number of-adoptive families.

We are strengthening our efforts on adoption because of a growing consensus that we must engage in a more concerted effort to move children to adoption or another permanent family arrangement when they are unable to return home. We know that some children are in foster care far too long awaiting adoption. Last winter, I visited the White House with a teenager who had been in several foster placements over the course of many years. She described the longing that she felt to have a family of her own, but her hopes were fading as she got older and to family could be found. I am pleased to report that this young woman was adopted last year, partially as a result of the attention that her plight received. However, she represents thousands of other children in the public child welfare system who still face multiple barriers to permanence.

Currently, 100,000 of the 450,000 American children in foster care will not be able to return home. Yet, in 1995, only 20,000 children were adopted; another 7,000 children were placed in permanent guardianships. There are multiple barriers to permanence for children in foster care which include a system overwhelmed with serious cases, procedural delays in agencies and the courts and a dearth of potential adoptive families. Underlying and compounding these barriers is the complexity and gravity of the placement decisions that must be made for each child and family in crisis. The President emphasized in his directive that placing children in nurturing families is a responsibility that requires a commitment from Federal, State, and local governments, as well as community, business, and religious groups.

States and communities all over the country are implementing innovative techniques, as we learned when we consulted with hundreds of State, county, and tribal leaders, foster care and adoption professionals, judges, foundations, and intergovernmental organizations in developing our report to the President. They have asked us to explore further with them innovative practices like concurrent planning for children in care, family mediation, and voluntary relinquishment counseling for parents.

We will build on this momentum and continue to look for ways to

  • reduce barriers to permanency in Federal law and regulations through bipartisan collaborative efforts

  • shorten the time required to move children to permanence

  • reduce procedural barriers and promote practices that move children to permanency more quickly by examining a number of policy issues, such as reasonable efforts to ensure permanency and policies on timing and purpose of dispositional hearings.

The recent Congressional actions, the President's initiative, the willingness to work together at all levels of government and innovations in the field make our goals more achievable. We look forward to working with the Congress to realize these goals for children.

Welfare-to-Work Initiative

The enactment of PRWORA makes a dramatic and fundamental shift, from a welfare system that too often fostered dependence to a new system that promotes independence and work. To realize the full potential of this new law, welfare recipients must take on major new responsibilities to prepare for and accept work. States and cities must exercise the flexibility provided to undertake new and innovative approaches to preparing recipients for self-sufficiency and work. Private businesses, religious organizations and community groups must join in the President's challenge to create jobs for those hardest to place. In addition, we urge Congress to join with the Administration in enacting two critical additions -- an enhanced Work Opportunity Tax Credit and the Welfare to Work Jobs Challenge.

The President recently suggested that communities should use "employment councils" like the one in Kansas City to help in meeting the requirements of welfare reform. Under the Job Training Partnership Act, 640 similar councils in place across the country engage over 10,000 private sector volunteers in overseeing the training and placement into jobs of welfare recipients, other low income adults and youth, as well as dislocated workers. We anticipate that States and communities will actively engage these councils in meeting the Welfare to Work Jobs Challenge.

These elements provide the tools for an effective welfare to work strategy and help us make the promise of welfare reform real. This Administration is dedicated to the realization of that promise. The President's FY 1998 budget would greatly enhance and target the Work Opportunity Tax Credit to provide powerful, new private-sector financial incentives to employers to create jobs for long-term welfare recipients. The enhanced Work Opportunity Tax Credit would allow employers to claim a 50 percent credit on the first $10,000 a year of wages, for up to two years, for workers that they hire who were long-term welfare recipients. In addition, the President proposes to expand the existing tax Work Opportunity Tax Credit to include able-bodied childless adults aged 18 to 50, who, under the Administration's Food Stamp proposal, would face a more rigorous work requirement in order to continue to receive Food Stamps.

The Welfare to Work Jobs Challenge proposed by the President is designed to help States and cities move a million of the hardest to-employ welfare recipients into lasting jobs by the year 2000. It provides $3 billion over 3 years in mandatory financing through the Department of Labor for job placement and job creation. States and cities can use these funds to provide subsidies and other incentives to encourage private business to hire welfare recipients.

It is now widely recognized that a more targeted job placement and creation measure is needed to complement the TANF Block Grant if we are to make welfare reform work. The Jobs Challenge is, intended to meet this need. We look forward to working closely with the Congress in exploring ways to assist States and localities in helping welfare recipients who can't find jobs on their own transition from welfare into real private sector jobs.

Another major focus for the Administration is to change parts of the welfare reform law that have nothing to do with welfare reform. When the President signed the Welfare Reform bill he made clear his disappointment with the harsh benefits to immigrants provisions in the bill. The President stated:

"My Administration supports holding sponsors who bring immigrants into this country more responsible for their well-being. Legal immigrant This proposal would allow 320,000 legal immigrants to receive SSI and Medicaid benefits."

The budget would also provide poor immigrant children the same Medicaid health care coverage low income citizen children receive. These children are permanent members of our nation and it is in our self interest to provide them with the same quality of health care as other children.

The budget would lengthen the five year exemption for refugees from the ban to seven years in order to give them a more appropriate amount of time to naturalize. The United States admits refugees and asylees into this country on a humanitarian basis. It is a matter of simple decency to provide assistance to this population while they adjust to their new circumstances.

In addition, the Administration is proposing to delay the prohibition against legal immigrants receiving Food Stamps. The Administration proposes to delay the ban on Food Stamps for legal immigrants until the end-of FY 1997 in order to give legal . immigrant families, elderly and disabled more time to naturalize.


In closing, I would like once again to thank you for your support on behalf of children living in poverty and children in our nation's child welfare system. I look forward to our continued work together as we seek to realize the goals of independence for every family and safety, permanence, and well-being for every child.

My colleagues and I would be happy to answer any questions you have at this time.

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