US Mayor Article

Welfare Reform and Census Top Issues at 24th Annual City Human Services Meeting

By Crystal D. Swann
May 15, 2000

Thirty-three city human services officials representing cities such as Denver, Chicago and Boston assembled in Washington, DC for the 24th Annual City Human Services Meeting May 7 - 9. The meeting is sponsored by the United States Conference of City Human Services Officials (USCCHSO), a twenty-five year old affiliate organization of the Conference.

Effects of Welfare Reform on Children and Families Continues to Concern City Officials

During the three-day meeting, the human service administrators met with top-ranking Administration officials from the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor, and the Administration on Aging, as well as top lobbyists from national advocacy organizations in Washington.

Human service officials consistently expressed concern about the effects welfare reform has had as families leave the welfare rolls and entering the workforce. Speakers and presenters stated that these families for the most part are entering the workforce under-skilled, underpaid, and depressed. Welfare caseloads have fallen dramatically in almost every state since the early 1990s, states a recent study from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. However, the hourly wage for those individuals leaving welfare is typically less than $8 per hour and a large portion earn less than $6 per hour." states Liz Schott, the Center's Senior Policy Analyst. "Families, especially parents that leave welfare often do not have health insurance (including Medicaid) and only one third of those leaving the rolls are receiving food stamps. Only between 15 and 30 percent of families receive childcare subsidies, while many others face other types of hardships such as inability to buy food and pay rent or utilities."

Under the new program of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), states have tremendous flexibility in spending the largely fixed block grant. Some states are implementing creative initiatives to improve the lives of these low-income working families whether on there own or through the directives of federal agencies. The Healthcare Financing Administration (HCFA) has recently directed states to reinstate families improperly terminated from Medicaid.

However, federal officials and advocates alike stressed that states retain the right to make use of these resources and increased flexibility at their discretion. Advocates urged city officials to urge Congress to increase the quality and availability of childcare, affordable healthcare, and housing.

City Human Services Officials and US Census Bureau Join Forces on Census 2000

During the meeting, U.S. Census officials and human service officials held a joint press conference to discuss the Conference of Mayors involvement in the Census 2000 promotional campaign, How America Knows What America Needs, and in particular, how census data directly impact vital city human services.

"As human services officials, we know first hand how critical census data are to ensuring the provision of essential local programs and services for our communities," stated USSCHSO President Willa Lister. " Human services officials have direct contact with traditionally undercounted populations - the poor, minorities, children and those living in rural areas - who are most in need to the services we provide."

USCCHSO officially adopted four additional policy positions:

  • Support the Removal of Asset Testing from all State Children's Health Insurance Applications;

  • Support increased funding for sustainable wages for vulnerable population care givers such as childcare and elder care workers;

  • Support increased funding for youth programs including Summer Youth Employment;

  • TANF reauthorization based on data that shows the impact of welfare reform on children, families, and cities; and

These policies will be forwarded to The United States Conference of Mayors for consideration through the appropriate committees and possible adoption at the Annual Conference in Seattle June 9-13.

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