- The Washington Times - Friday, December 10, 2004

The District has flunked its effort to reform welfare, according to a report by the Cato Institute.

“The city did just about everything wrong,” said Jenifer Ziegler, the study’s author and a researcher for the institute, a libertarian think tank that supports smaller government.

Ms. Ziegler said the study findings were based upon programs and their results since the 1996 nationwide welfare reform movement.

The findings were based on how well the District or states prevent poverty with programs such as delaying juvenile pregnancy, getting welfare recipients to work and helping them finish high school, which is key to becoming self-sufficient, she said.

Ms. Ziegler said the District also did not have good “diversion” programs, nor short-term solutions that can keep people from entering the welfare system.

For example, lending people money to fix their cars so they can get to work is better than denying them the money, waiting until they lose their job, then having them go on welfare. “A lot of times this is all they need,” she said.

The institute gave “F” grades to the District, Maine, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Rhode Island, Vermont and Utah, in the report published in October.

Kate Jesberg, administrator in the District’s Income Maintenance Administration, said yesterday the report is biased and “sloppy” because it is filled with factual errors.

She also questioned Cato’s method of grading the states and said the District has received high honors for its Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.

Miss Jesberg said the District has received 11 of 12 award bonuses for the program.

“That speaks to our ability to employ welfare mothers,” she said. “Our policies have been very successful.”

Since TANF started in 1999, the District has employed 10,000 people. Their average wage is $8.50 per hour and 80 percent retain their job, she said.

“Retention is really key to this, and it puts people on the road to better lives,” Miss Jesberg said.

She also questioned the way the institute “subjectively” assigned scores for specific programs. The District scored a 0 out of 100 possible points in one area because it does not punish children when the parents fail to appear at a required activity. However, the District punishes the parents.

Virginia received a “B” grade for programs that discourage people from getting on welfare and for denying additional money to families that have additional children while they are on welfare, Ms. Ziegler said.

“They were the reverse of D.C.,” she said. “They implemented the programs we liked.”

Maryland received a “C” but has made significant reduction in welfare rolls: Caseloads dropped 68 percent from 1996 to 2003. But the report ranked the state last for the percentage of welfare recipients who were “actually working” jobs as opposed to those taking classes or job training.

Maryland welfare advocates said that grading the states misses the point of welfare reform, which gives states the freedom to experiment with programs that suit their needs. A program that works in one state might not work in another, advocates said.

Lynda Meade of Welfare Advocates said the report oversimplifies a complex system. “We’re talking about families and children. Giving states a grade doesn’t speak to moving to self-sufficiency,” she said.

The Capital News Service contributed to this report.

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