- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 27, 2000

Minnesota's groundbreaking welfare reform program poses a tough question to America: What price tag do taxpayers put on family values? The Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) which requires most recipients to work while they keep many of their welfare benefits showed that higher welfare expenditures pay off for single-parent families. Single-parent participants were more likely to get married and less likely to be involved in domestic violence than those in the state's old welfare program, according to a recent three-year study by the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation. Extra cost to taxpayers: $1,900 to $3,800 a year more per family than the old system, which provided little incentive to go to work.

The Minnesota reform could serve as a catalyst to similar workfare programs in place in over 40 states. Pre-welfare reform, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) reduced benefits, dollar by dollar, of income earned by recipients. The new program actually increases the recipients' grants by 20 percent to provide for work expenses and discounts 38 percent of the recipients earnings. The question is whether the state should be paying the bill for such reform, and whether what happened in Minnesota can be replicated in other states or in a time of economic instability.

First the good news: Employment of single parents in the MFIP program who were longtime welfare recipients went up by 35 percent, with an average income of $955 in quarterly earnings (as opposed to $779 earned by those in the old program). Domestic abuse of mothers decreased by 18 percent and marriage rates increased by 10.6 percent. Children's behavior and school performance also improved during the time of the pilot program, which ran from April 1994 to June 1998.

The results were not matched for two-parent families, though: Family earnings actually decreased, but marriages were more likely to stick than those who were using the old welfare program during the same three years. At the end of that time, 67 percent of the two-parent families were still married without separation or divorce, while only 48.5 percent of those using AFDC were still together.

While the increase in employment for single-parent families using MFIP was in full-time stable jobs, yesterday's unemployed poor are today's working poor. Only 24.6 percent of the MFIP families had incomes above the poverty level. That's an improvement, but the gap left by the other three-quarters of the population whose income hasn't lifted them out of poverty must still be filled either from the private or state sectors.

Minnesota has shown that extra expenditures up front are beginning to make a difference in improving family life in the homes of longterm welfare recipients there. It's up to taxpayers in the rest of the country to decide whether a greater work force and more stable family homes are worth their dollars in their home states.

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