|FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
JUNE 30, 1998
|CONTACT: 21st Century League
Graham S. Finney
Estimated 40,000 Philadelphia Families at Risk of Losing Welfare
Payments In Nine Months, Civic Group Reports
|PHILADELPHIA - June 30 - An extensive report by the 21st Century League,
an independent civic group, found that as many as 40,000 of Philadelphia's poorest
families risk losing their current cash assistance in nine months.
As a result of ``welfare reform,'' starting in March of 1999, all those welfare recipients
who have been in the system for 24 months must work 20 hours a week, or lose their
benefits. Over the past 15 months, Pennsylvania's Department of Public Welfare (DPW) has
attempted to implement a welfare-to-work strategy to move recipients into the workforce.
While basic administrative systems are now in place, and the message that welfare has been
changed has been widely disseminated, the League's study finds that as many as two-thirds
of Philadelphia's remaining welfare recipients find themselves at risk of losing cash
assistance for both themselves and their families.
Graham S. Finney, President of the 2lst Century League, explained the report by saying,
``The League commissioned this hard look at the new welfare system in order to increase
public understanding of a massive change and its likely impact on tens of thousands of
Philadelphia area citizens. Where possible, we hope to highlight whatever isn't working so
that those responsible can make the appropriate mid-course corrections.''
He added a warning: ``If the findings of this report are not addressed, then all sectors
of this already hard-pressed city will be forced to deal with the consequences. That
includes the public sector, the business and religious communities, community-based
groups, and many more. Much needs to be done in a very short time.''
Like every other state in the nation, Pennsylvania finds itself responsible for
implementing a new welfare system under the rules of the new federal block grant system.
Under the requirements of the Transitional Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) block
grant, Pennsylvania must make sure that welfare recipients find work within 24 months and
leave welfare within 60 months. Pennsylvania's first deadline will arrive next March.
To meet TANF's demands, Pennsylvania enacted its own welfare law, Act 35, whose work
requirements and deadlines mirror those of the federal law. The state seeks to put
recipients on a ``pathway to self-sufficiency'' by getting them into the workforce quickly
and then supporting them as they climb the wage ladder. Pennsylvania reports many
successes in its first year, including the placement of almost 73,000 welfare recipients
in jobs (19,300 in Philadelphia).
However, the League study found an overwhelming consensus throughout the welfare system
that some two-thirds of Philadelphia's current caseload are at risk of losing their
assistance come next March, and that the state's first- year welfare-to-work efforts were
not sufficient to address their needs.
The League study, done with the full cooperation of DPW, was conducted by Janet E. Raffel,
a consultant experienced in urban issues. Its findings are based on extensive interviews
with DPW policymakers and front-line staff, all available DPW data, nine focus groups of
welfare recipients, and interviews with more than 125 stakeholders in all areas affected
by the welfare changes. The research concentrated on Philadelphia, home to some 47 percent
of the state's welfare population, but also examined the experiences of Chester and
Among the report's findings, Raffel said, was that virtually everyone agrees on the basic
goals of the new welfare laws, which stress self- sufficiency as the antidote to public
dependency. ``Overwhelmingly, the welfare recipients that we interviewed wanted to comply
with the law and find jobs,'' said Raffel. ``They want to be self-sufficient, and their
caseworkers and many others want to help them.
``However,'' she added, ``there was a lot of confusion and concern about how these laws
are being implemented, and a general feeling that the resources that have been provided to
do the job have been inadequate.''
Among the report's major findings:
Pennsylvania's decision to turn the 24- and 60-month ``clocks'' on for all recipients on
1997, means that nearly everyone still in the system will hit the first deadline at the
In Philadelphia, the new system was initially plagued by confusion at every level over
rules, allowable activities, and requirements. Local welfare offices were overwhelmed with
new administrative tasks, and many caseworkers reported that they are unable to perform
their new tasks adequately. Particular confusion surrounded the distribution of critical
child-care and transportation benefits, and the allowability of education activities.
DPW chose to create 80 percent of its program slots in ``quick attachment''
job-search programs, but provided only enough slots for about a quarter of its
Philadelphia caseload. Some additional slots were created for those who couldn't find work
through quick attachment, but most of those were in a program criticized by DPW and others
as being inadequate to serve the needs of the hard-to-employ.
DPW's present data systems are inadequate to demonstrate anything more than very basic
information about the caseload, and make it very difficult to analyze the results of the
policies. They can report how many people found jobs, for example, but not how long they
keep them or what they earn. Furthermore, while DPW has not assessed its caseload for
employability, it is operating on the assumption that those who remain on the welfare
rolls will be harder to employ than those already gone or working.
Observers throughout the system believe that almost half of the caseload is doing nothing
to respond to the laws' new demands, but the lack of data make it impossible to determine
whether this is due to ``denial'' or deeper problems of literacy, drug abuse, language
barriers, or other problems.
``The state's attempt to quickly place work-ready recipients in immediately available jobs
worked for some, especially in today's good economy, but not the majority of the
caseload,'' said Raffel of her findings. ``Those who are not ready to work without
considerable additional assistance had little to lean on, but they face the deadline just
like everybody else.'' She added that most of the recipients interviewed faced problems
with services such as child care and transportation that make employment possible.
While many new programs remain in the planning stages, including the city's Greater
Philadelphia Works plan funded by the new federal welfare-to- work funds, the report
suggests that they will not be ready to serve many clients in time to help them avoid the
The report makes a number of suggestions for immediate and long-term action, based on the
first year's experience, including:
Make an effective analysis of the characteristics of the remaining caseload, and share the
results with Greater Philadelphia leaders from all sectors, in order to assure the best
possible investment of scarce resources; Improve data systems, case management
capacities and client referral systems so that all clients get the best possible
assistance during their stay on the welfare rolls; Rectify initially inconsistent
administration of benefits to clients, particularly child care and other allowances, and
expand efforts to deal with such vexing problems as literacy, drug abuse, domestic
violence, and long-term job retention; Develop a comprehensive regional plan that
mobilizes all necessary community partners, and which is based on a realistic assessment
of the problems faced by the region and its residents as the new deadlines new laws.
``This report took a hard look at the towering hurdles facing one major city as it tries
to comply with the new welfare laws' goal of moving tens of thousands of hard-pressed
families to self-sufficiency,'' said Finney. ``This cannot be simply about cutting welfare
rolls, because that in turn creates new problems for local communities and their
governments. Pennsylvania and the federal government have established time limits and work
requirements, but what we found is a major gap in the state's short-term capacity to
implement them effectively in a big, old city like Philadelphia.
``The problem faced by this place is the same one that other cities like it will face in
the years to come,'' he concluded.
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