New state welfare plan continues success, saves money

OLYMPIA - A new state welfare plan announced by Gov. Mike Lowry today expands mandatory job training and placement programs and utilizes a state waiver to save Washington taxpayers nearly $22 million over the next two years.

The plan is required under the welfare law signed by President Clinton last August. Already, 33 states have submitted plans, with 13 utilizing pre-existing waivers.

"This plan prepares people on welfare to compete for good jobs so they can get off of public assistance and stay off," Lowry said. "Through job training, child care and health care assistance, we can take advantage of our strong economy to benefit those who have not benefited in the past."

The state plan relies on House Bill 2798, a welfare reform measure passed by the 1994 Legislature which created a waiver from federal requirements to set up an aggressive job readiness program for welfare recipients. Under the plan, the state will invest $8.2 million to boost Washington's job placement rates to meet new federal requirements. Without the waiver, the state Office of Financial Management estimates Washington would have to spend more than $30 million to create a program to meet the federal requirements or face financial sanctions.

"By building on our existing program, this plan is much more cost-efficient than scrapping everything and starting over," Lowry said.

The waiver allows the state to continue providing economic and work training benefits to legal immigrants. The waiver also allows the state to exempt parents of disabled children and single parents with a child under three from working full-time, but only those parents with a child under one will count in the calculations to meet federal work requirements.

"We are probably the most prepared state in the country for the changes that lie ahead," Lowry said in reference to the state's two-year-old welfare reform effort. "We have been fine tuning our welfare program to emphasize skill training and job placement and it has paid off. In the last 12 months we have placed 23,045 welfare clients into jobs; our waiver allows us to continue that success while meeting the new federal work requirements."

The state plan includes a 10 percent annual reduction for families that are on welfare for 48 out of 60 months, which supersedes the new federal five-year lifetime limit. Those people who are found to be unemployable can be granted hardship exemptions.

"Training for self sufficiency is the key to this plan," Lowry said. "The average length of stay on our current welfare system is three years, but sometimes there are people who require more time. We need to keep some flexibility. This plan aims to invest in people, so that a single parent can get a job based on her ability rather than the luck of the economy."

A 45-day public comment period on the plan will begin today and will end on Jan. 9, 1997. Lowry will formally submit the plan to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services on Jan. 10. By submitting the plan before next July's deadline, the state will net a first-time bonus of $15 million.

"Utilizing our waiver will preserve the essential elements of our welfare-to-work effort, but we must remember that these same families will be hit by federal reductions in food stamps, child care nutrition dollars and other programs," Lowry said. "In passing the welfare law, Congress passed on huge responsibilities to the states, and this welfare plan is only one step toward meeting the challenge before us."

# # #

For more information, contact the Governor's Communications Office at 360-753-6790.

For copies of the state welfare plan, call 360-413-3010, or visit the Governor's Home Page on the world wide web:

Press Release
Washington State Welfare Plan
Plan Summary
Effects of New Welfare Law