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Reforming Welfare by Rewarding Work

Reforming Welfare by Rewarding Work: One State’s Successful Experiment

Dave Hage
Copyright Date: 2004
Edition: NED - New edition
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Reforming Welfare by Rewarding Work
    Book Description:

    In the late 1980s, Governor Rudy Perpich gathered a group of citizen experts to redesign Minnesota’s welfare system, and a burst of innovation resulted in the groundbreaking and successful pilot Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP). Reforming Welfare by Rewarding Work intertwines MFIP’s development with harrowing—and enlightening—firsthand accounts of three families’s experiences on welfare, and asserts that a true antipoverty program is crucial—and achievable—in America.

    eISBN: 978-0-8166-9449-5
    Subjects: Political Science

Table of Contents

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  1. INTRODUCTION: Confronting the Paradox of Welfare Reform
    (pp. xi-xx)

    Over the decades Americans have tried countless tools to help their indigent neighbors—poorhouses, widows’ pensions, food stamps, workfare. But they have always struggled with a stubborn dilemma: How does society support those who are truly needy without subsidizing those who are merely lazy? Framed another way—and a society that worships self-reliance often does frame it this way—how does society penalize those who will not work without punishing those who cannot work?

    This is not some idle problem of moral philosophy. It frustrated Richard Nixon, who proposed a simple antipoverty tool known as the Negative Income Tax in...

  2. CHAPTER 1 Welfare 101: A New Approach to Public Assistance
    (pp. 1-10)

    It’s a chill November afternoon in 2001 in the Frogtown neighborhood of St. Paul, Minnesota, and eleven glum adults are waiting in the lobby of a storefront social-service agency called Lifetrack Resources. All eleven have applied for public assistance in Ramsey County within the previous month, and they can’t collect their first benefit checks until they show up at Lifetrack to attend welfare class. During the next hour and a half they will learn how an innovative welfare system will help them with job interviews, child care, health insurance, rent, and groceries—but also how it will settle sobering responsibilities...

  3. CHAPTER 2 Reality Check (1986): A Crash Course in Poverty for a Divided legislature
    (pp. 11-32)

    The welfare-to-work system that JoAnn Brown described to her class in the fall of 2001 seemed to embody the best of Minnesota’s reputation for social compassion and political consensus. But fifteen years earlier, at the origins of the new system, the state enjoyed no such consensus on aid to needy families. In 1986 Minnesotans were waging a bitter fight over welfare, a debate that was testing the state’s civic fabric and reputation for good government. Hennepin County, Minnesota’s most populous county and home to a third of its welfare caseload, was receiving a steady stream of poor black families from...

  4. CHAPTER 3 Real Life, Fall 2001
    (pp. 33-46)

    Patty slides into a booth at the Perkins restaurant in Coon Rapids, lights a Marlboro, and begins recounting her latest battle with authority. “The school district, in all its wisdom, won’t let my daughter ride the school bus anymore.” She pours hot water over a tea bag. “Budget cuts. Any kid who lives less than a mile from school has to walk.”

    It’s our first face-to-face interview, but Patty is wasting no time with pleasantries. She’s irate. She lives a mile away, on a stretch of road in the middle of the sprawling Anoka-Hennepin School District, and now her eight-year-old...

  5. CHAPTER 4 Remaking Welfare (1987–1994): Making Work Pay
    (pp. 47-66)

    When Minnesota’s welfare-reform commission went out of business in late 1986, Governor Rudy Perpich told colleagues he was delighted with its work. By ruling out any cut in Minnesota’s basic welfare grant, the commission had vindicated Perpich’s decision to defend AFDC in the legislature one year earlier. Yet by proposing a new social contract between the state and welfare recipients, the commission had delivered a pragmatic antipoverty strategy that Perpich could sell to lawmakers of both parties and to a broad swath of voters.

    In January 1987, the Perpich administration began drafting legislation that would move Minnesota in the direction...

  6. CHAPTER 5 Real Life, Winter 2001–2002
    (pp. 67-82)

    Meg is sitting at her kitchen table, working on a household budget and feeling that perhaps her life is not disintegrating after all. There are two gallons of milk in the refrigerator, a big jar of applesauce for the baby, and a quart of lemon yogurt—the only nutritious food the boys will eat with any enthusiasm. The pantry is stocked with pasta, spaghetti sauce, and rice, and there’s enough chicken in the freezer to make meals for a month.

    It’s mid-January and Meg has received her first check from Ramsey County. Actually, in the modern world of welfare, it’s...

  7. CHAPTER 6 A New Federal Challenge (1997): The Personal Responsibility Act Threatens Minnesota’s Innovations
    (pp. 83-102)

    On January 21, 1997, Governor Arne Carlson invited reporters to his office at the state capitol for an update on Minnesota’s welfare-to-work project. Results were trickling in from the county field trials and Minnesota had some boasting to do. Evaluators from the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation had found that, in most counties, the Minnesota Family Investment Program increased employment among long-term welfare recipients, increased their overall household incomes, and reduced the number of families living in poverty.¹ The results covered only the early months of MFIP’s startup and the evaluators warned that they were provisional, but Carlson embraced them proudly....

  8. CHAPTER 7 Real life, Spring 2002
    (pp. 103-116)

    In the strip mall that adjoins Lucille’s school in Brooklyn Park, just across the parking lot and in direct view of a classroom window, is a convenience store called the Speedy Food Stop. It’s a regular source of diapers, milk, and cigarettes for the families who live in the apartment complexes across Zane Avenue, and its parking lot serves as a gathering spot where neighbors compare lottery tickets and exchange neighborhood gossip.

    On the evening of Friday, April 26, 2002, a twenty-four-year-old customer named Daniel Morrison pulled into the parking lot in front of the Speedy Food Stop, parked his...

  9. CHAPTER 8 Making Welfare Work (1998–2000): Minnesota Attracts National Attention
    (pp. 117-136)

    In the spartan little classroom at Lifetrack Resources, JoAnn Brown is back at work on a spring afternoon, this time teaching her monthly job-skills class for MFIP recipients. Four clients had signed up, but two have bowed out because of day-care emergencies. The remaining students are Somali women who sit quietly, shrouded in ankle-length skirts and the head scarves known as hijab.

    Brown begins with an audience-participation exercise. She will ask a series of questions, and asks her students to stand if they mean to answer yes.

    “Have you ever sent a letter by e-mail?

    “Have you ever made a...

  10. CHAPTER 9 Real Life, Summer 2002
    (pp. 137-146)

    It’s a few weeks after Mother’s Day, in the early summer of 2002, when I see Patty again, and she has another patented story of familial discord. She and Samantha spent Mother’s Day weekend at Don’s lake cabin and arrived home Monday morning to find a thick packet of legal documents from Anoka County. It was a series of letters and contracts spelling out the county’s plan to collect Patty’s child-support payments from Samantha’s father.

    “I’m reading through these, getting more excited by the minute, when the phone rings. It’s him, of course. He got the same packet in the...

  11. CHAPTER 10 The Limits of Welfare Reform (2000–2001): When Work Isn’t the Answer
    (pp. 147-168)

    Cindy Widman slips behind the wheel of her white Nissan Sentra and pulls out of the parking lot at Jewish Family Service of St. Paul. A vocational counselor serving Ramsey County recipients of Minnesota Family Investment Program benefits, Widman works with the most fragile and struggling clients—adults who can’t balance a checkbook, can’t read a bus schedule, can’t even get out of bed on some mornings. Most of her clients are so shattered or disorganized they cannot reliably keep a biweekly appointment at her office. So she goes to them.

    The client this morning is Dolores, a thirty-six-year-old single...

  12. CHAPTER 11 Real Life, Fall 2002
    (pp. 169-184)

    Lucille is sitting in the Social Security Administration field office in downtown Minneapolis, waiting for her SSI appeals hearing to start in twenty minutes. She’s looking elegant in a navy blue suit, conservative pumps, and a modest shade of red lipstick, but she has tucked herself away in one corner, and the look on her face says she would bolt at any minute if Simone Reiss weren’t there to steel her nerves.

    “I’m nervous,” Lucille confides. “I’m very nervous.”

    She has reason to be nervous. She has reached the forty-ninth month of her benefits clock, and she can practically hear...

  13. CHAPTER 12 Unfinished Business: What the Nation Can Learn from Minnesota’s Experiment
    (pp. 185-198)

    In the spring of 2002, as Congress prepared to reauthorize the landmark welfare law it had passed six years earlier, the Senate Finance Committee invited economist Isabel Sawhill to testify about her research on poverty and family formation. The Brookings Institution scholar had finished her prepared remarks when the committee chair, Senator Max Baucus of Montana, asked, “What about this MFIP program people are talking about? Why do we keep hearing so much about Minnesota?”

    This was not an isolated incident. Ten years after its creation, the Minnesota Family Investment Program had developed a national reputation among poverty experts and...