Summit Report
Statistical Snapshot
What's Working
Conclusions of Large Group
Where Do We Go From Here?
Contact Information





Joint Hearing of the Health and Family Security Subcommittee on Welfare Reform Oversight and the Commission on the Economic Status of Women
December 18, 1998

Report from participants of the Welfare to Work Summit sponsored by Minnesota Public Radio and the Institute on Race and Poverty at the University of Minnesota

Commission Members Present: Senator Becky Lourey, Senator Linda Berglin, Senator Pat Piper, Representative Barb Sykora, Representative Betty Folliard, Representative Bud Nornes,

Subcommittee Members Present: Senator Dan Stevens, Senator Don Betzold, Senator Sheila Kiscaden, Senator Don Samuelson

The following is a summary based on written notes of the testimony and discussion that took place at the hearing:

Report from participants of the Welfare Summit sponsored by Minnesota Public Radio and the University of Minnesota, Institute on Race and Poverty Handout: Welfare to Work: How Are We Doing? Where Do We Go From Here?

Marguerite Spencer, Senior Researcher, Institute on Race and Poverty
On October 2, 1998, Minnesota Public Radio and the Institute on Race and Poverty cosponsored a summit entitled "Welfare to Work: How Are We Doing? Where Do We Go From Here?". Over 100 participants from across the state gathered to discuss welfare reform. Spencer reported on their recommendations and findings. This was a unique collaboration between public radio and the Institute. Together they were able to provide productive dialogue and reach a neutral agreement. Participants are listed at the end of the packet distributed to members.

Spencer described the context and current status of welfare reform, as found in the packet.
It is true that people in general are moving off of the welfare rolls, but when the numbers are broken down by race, you get a clearer picture of what is happening. DHS data shows that decreases in welfare rolls are racialized. From January 1994 to January 1998, the African American welfare population decreased by 1.3 percent; Native American by 14 percent; Hispanic by 25 percent; and white by 43 percent. Language and cultural barriers aggravate the situation. This conversation about welfare is indeed a conversation about race.

There is a spatial mismatch between home and work, and a lack of affordable housing in locations where jobs are located. Seventy-one percent of Blacks and 63 percent of Hispanics who are welfare recipients live in urban centers.

The director of the Institute on Race and Poverty, john powell, has identified three tiers of welfare participants - (1) those who go on welfare for a short time and would get off anyway; (2) those who need creative efforts to get them off welfare; and (3) those who will never permanently join the workforce. The first two tiers are the focus of current efforts. The third group is the one that will need future collaborative and creative efforts to serve.

Jean Hammink, Director, Community Employment Partnership for St. Paul and Ramsey County Hammink participated in a group at the Summit that looked at policy and planning, examining what was working and what wasn't working with welfare reform. People with a variety of policy perspectives were part of the group. They agreed that the following things are working:

  1. The overall "go to work" message makes sense. This came also from their discussion with people who are on public assistance.
  2. There are new partnerships that are changing our effectiveness and improving how resources are used.
  3. There are now funds to reduce barriers and make the transition successful: child care tax credits, earned income tax credit,
  4. etc.
The policy group identified several things that are not working:
  1. There are inadequate resources for job training counselors. Case loads are around 100- 200 clients per counselor.
  2. The technology to support the systems and collaborations are inadequate.
  3. The record keeping is cumbersome.
  4. A market driven economy does not get people out of poverty because of low wages and the gap between wages and high housing costs.
  5. The policy group saw the importance of packaging welfare reform and economic policy and how both are related by other social issues, such as affordable housing. Transportation and child care were also tied to both welfare reform and economic policy.
  6. Finally, assumptions about the caseload were not accurate. One example is transportation programs set up for reverse commutes.
  7. They are not being used, but were set up based on our assumptions about where people would seek employment. We do not fully understand this population and the issues involved.
Marsha Berry, Parenting and Childcare Product Specialist, Ceridian Performance Partners
  1. Berry facilitated the employer group at the Summit. From the employer's perspective, some things are working, but mainly for employers that have made a commitment and are hiring welfare recipients.
  2. Soft skills and other training programs are in place and working.
  3. Also working are on-the-job mentoring programs.
  4. Partnerships between employers and community groups are now working, though they were not working in the past. Abbott Northwestern has had a successful collaboration with neighborhood groups, meeting together to discuss each others needs.
  5. Best practices are also being shared within industries.
Things that are not working include the following:
  1. The scarcity of potential employees
  2. Gaps in language and literacy (As we are moving into the second tier of welfare to work job seekers, this is going to be more pressing.)
  3. Employers as a group need to take a greater responsibility in retaining employees
  4. Employers need to be urged to do some auxiliary support services for employees
  5. Cultural fears and diversity training (Some will need to be more experiential and creative).
Danisa Farley, Mentor, Sister-to-Sister
Handout: Sister to Sister brochure
  1. Sister-to-Sister is a mentoring network committed to helping women through the transition from welfare to work. At the Summit, the welfare experience group found the following things to be working:
  2. In the new welfare system people are able to spend what they earn today, as opposed to the old welfare system. There is a greater incentive to work and working often increases self esteem.
  3. More employers are reaching out to their employees.
  4. There has also been good media coverage of successes and difficulties.
The welfare group found that the following things are not working:
  1. The system is not the participant's friend.
  2. People have to accept low paying jobs that will not help them, and education and training is not being encouraged.
  3. The women ultimately carry the burden of supporting their families. In many cases there is not enough attention paid to child support collections.
  4. Parents without skills and support are not making it. Lack of formal education is a barrier, as are the lack of affordable child care and transportation.
  5. There is a shortage of neighborhood child care and child care for 2nd and 3rd shifts.
  6. There is a 2 year waiting list for sliding fee child care.
  7. There is punishment for self reporting. If a parent is open with her counselor about difficulties, i.e. chemical dependency, the case worker must report that to child protection.
  8. Fathers are not held accountable for monetary support or emotional support.

Workers are often penalized for success. Farley's employment with Sister to Sister has pushed her income above qualification for medical assistance. She earns $24,000 and has 5 children. She applied for MinnesotaCare, it took them 12 weeks to reply, and the answer was no, due to her having cafeteria benefits offered by her employer which could be used to purchase health care (whose premiums she cannot afford). So, while this is available, it is impossible to access it when needed due to tight budgets.

Spencer recommended that we approach welfare recipients with humility and approach them with dignity.

Hammink recommended that we be innovative, build partnerships, share resources, address the disconnect between systems and listen.

Berry reported two recommendations from the employer group: (1) improve collaborations and (2) encourage employers to contribute to ongoing training.

Farley asked that we remember that moms on welfare are not lazy. They do not need sympathy, just understanding and support.

Senator Berglin asked if people in work search are asked to participate in that activity without having child care provided for them. They have to pay for it up-front and then get reimbursed, but the payback comes too late. This is against the federal law, but it doesn't matter because people are afraid of being sanctioned. Senator Berglin wondered if the panelists had heard this or found this to be a problem. Some families have gone so far as to keep their older children out of school to babysit the younger children while the parent looks for work. There is no appeal from the sanction in these cases.

Farley said that some work resource hubs offer drop-in child care and some don't. Women should not be forced to choose between being sanctioned or taking their children out of school.

Senator Berglin asked to what extent further training is offered to get a job that would actually support a family.

Hammink reported that they are trying to build a system that would allow that but are not there yet. It is a major caseload issue, as can be imagined when a case worker has 30-45 minutes per month with a client.

Senator Berglin asked to what extent people get child care while they are in training or education.

Hammink said that child care is a right if education or training is part of the plan. However, child care is not always available and reimbursement is a problem.

Representative Folliard asked about the term racialized which had been used by Spencer in her comments. She asked how we can be more effective in areas where racial groups are concentrated.

Spencer replied that we should begin with the question "why?" Why are certain communities experiencing barriers and what are they? She said that this should be the first step - ask why, and then we can address those barriers. It's a bigger question than diversity awareness in the workforce. We have to look at the concentration in communities. Representative Folliard stated that educational opportunity and mobility need to be observed. How can we lift up the education piece in the metro area and how can we address mobility? She also would like to address affordable housing and expressed concern that this issue won't get the attention it deserves in the upcoming legislative session (because of the elimination of the Housing Committee in the House).

Representative Sykora reported that the House is now forming its committees to reflect the committee structure in the Senate, so it is not that the Housing Committee is eliminated.

Hammink stated that for the metropolitan area, the lack of affordable housing in the center city and surrounding areas is in crisis situation. People are losing jobs because they cannot find housing.


Top | Introduction | Statistical Snapshot | What's Working
Conclusions of Large Group
| Where Do We Go From Here?
Conclusion | Contact Information


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