Texas: Fundamentally Flawed

Texas: Fundamentally Flawed

By Patrick Bresette

Vol. 18, No. 1, 1996 pp. 2-3

The powerful impetus in Congress to reform this nation’s welfare programs has rapidly degenerated into little more than an ideological contest, but one likely to yield disastrous consequences. Divorced from reality, ignoring current research, and focusing on all the wrong issues, Congress aims to implement welfare reform that would create vast inequities among the states and provide little meaningful change.

The stated goal of welfare reform is simple enough–to convert welfare into a stepping stone to economic independence and self-sufficiency. Unfortunately, what has become lost in the current debate is the program’s original intent–protecting disadvantaged children. The proposals being considered dismantle the current system without putting something better in place. These measures would likely push millions of poor families deeper into poverty.

In Texas, poor women and children will be the ulti-

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mate victims of what has become a cynical display of overheated rhetoric versus reality. Instead of presenting a workplace plan during debate on welfare proposals, Senators joined House members in bickering over assistance to teen mothers and their children. It is a side issue–less than 5 percent of Texas welfare mothers are under age nineteen. Meanwhile, lawmakers have ignored the crucial problem of helping welfare mothers become economically independent.

Under the vetoed federal proposal, likely to be recycled, Texas would have fared worse than many other states. Texas would initially receive about four hundred dollars per poor child annually, while thirty other states would receive more than one thousand dollars per poor child.

Despite well-publicized compromises on a formula to allocate federal welfare funds, little was done to address this unfair distribution. Characterized by its creators as “equitable and dynamic,” this formula is neither.

While Texas would have qualified for a small “growth state” allotment, the slight increase would still leave the state perpetually below the national average of federal funding per poor child. Even more sobering is the inability of this “dynamic” formula to keep pace with inflation and projected population growth. And, it would do nothing to offset millions of dollars in cuts that Texas will experience in food and nutrition services, programs that serve abused and neglected children, and services for children with disabilities.

Most welfare reform proposals also require dramatic increases in mandatory work programs for AFDC recipients, while providing inadequate resources for those services. In Texas, reforms could double or even triple the number of welfare mothers currently in work programs with nearly 20 percent less funds to run the program.

And while many have applauded the inclusion of child care funding, the congressional proposal included only half of that needed to match the increased work requirements. Such a plan could force Texas to provide child care for as many as fifty thousand additional children by the year 2000.

Any meaningful welfare reform should include an emphasis on work and training, but all current research clearly indicates that increasing these efforts will take time, innovation, adequate child care and more money–not less. The work and child care provisions of the proposal were so underfunded that the Congressional Budget Office predicted thirty-five to forty states would be unable to meet these new work requirements.

The welfare reform proposals are fundamentally flawed. Focused primarily on budget cutting, they shift responsibilities to the states with unrealistic expectations and inadequate resources. They would distribute funding in a manner that values poor children differently from state to state and ignores real reforms in education and training that could help welfare families become self-supporting.

Congress has shirked the courage and leadership necessary to face the real and difficult realities of overhauling welfare.

Patrick Bresette is associate director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities in Austin, Texas, a not-for-profit research and policy analysis organization focusing on programs that impact children and families. The article was prepared for the Texas Lone Star Forum