State reform of welfare rated high Study found most who left rolls found jobs, legislators are told

1,600 families tracked

Md. shows 35 percent drop in cases over past two years

October 01, 1997|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,SUN STAFF

Maryland's year-old venture into welfare reform received high marks yesterday in a groundbreaking study finding that fewer than one in five families who left the public assistance rolls returned within three to six months.

The report -- considered one of the most comprehensive studies of the results of welfare reform to date -- tracked 1,600 families who left the system since Maryland implemented its Family Investment Program a year ago today.

The study indicated that Maryland's 35 percent drop in welfare cases over the past two years is not simply a matter of dumping people from the rolls. It showed that two-thirds of adult recipients who left welfare under the new program were employed during the following quarter -- an indication they are finding and keeping jobs.

Catherine Born, author of the study, told the General Assembly's Joint Committee on Welfare Reform that the results indicate the state is "on the right track" with its program.

"Maryland has just quietly but very competently gone about this business of welfare reform," said Born, a professor in the School of Social Work at the University of Maryland, Baltimore.

The interim report, first in a series ordered by the General Assembly when it adopted sweeping changes in the state's public assistance system, indicates that some of the most pessimistic forecasts by welfare reform opponents are not coming true. According to the report, welfare reform has had no negative impact on the foster-care caseload. The study found that of 1,810 children in Baltimore and Baltimore County whose families left welfare during the first six months of the reform plan, only three -- all in the same troubled family -- ended in foster care.

"Maybe some of the people making dire predictions thought less well of the poor than the poor deserve," Born said.

Lawmakers greeted the study with cautious optimism.

"The initial results are encouraging. The final verdict is still a long way away," said Sen. Martin G. Madden, the Howard County Republican who co-chairs the committee on welfare reform.

Del. Samuel I. Rosenberg, the panel's other co-chair- man, said he was pleased that welfare recipients are getting into the work force. But the Baltimore Democrat said the state needs to put the money it is saving on welfare payments into a reserve fund for 1999, when time limits on how long people can remain on welfare will take effect.

Under Maryland law, as well as federal welfare reform, public assistance recipients will be limited to two years of payments in a single period on welfare and five years over a lifetime, unless they qualify as hardship cases or are enrolled in an employ- ment program.

Born and Lynda Fox, deputy secretary of the Department of Human Resources, told the committee that Maryland is the first state to conduct a thorough analysis of closed welfare cases to track over time what happens to recipients after they leave the rolls.

The study tracked patterns of welfare use, reasons for leaving public assistance, the types of jobs obtained by former recipients and the impact on children's welfare programs.

Among the findings:

17.3 percent of the families who stopped receiving welfare returned to the rolls within three to six months.

4.8 percent of recipients who left the welfare program were removed as a penalty for noncompliance.

About half, 49.3 percent, found work during the same quarter their welfare cases were closed, while 66.3 percent found work during the following quarter.

Most welfare recipients have a history of employment, with 73.5 percent having held jobs sometime during the 2 1/2 years before they left the rolls.

Jodie Levin-Epstein, a state policy analyst with the Center for Social Policy in Washington, said she was not surprised that so many welfare recipients had been in the work force before going on the rolls.

"There's a myth that welfare recipients have never worked," Levin-Epstein said.

Susan Christie, director of organizational and professional development at the American Public Welfare Association, said the study's findings were consistent with anecdotal evidence from around the country. But she said Maryland's study is noteworthy because it has tracked the progress of individuals from the beginning of the program.

"They are to be congratulated for getting this sort of data," said Christie, whose organization represents public social service agencies around the country.

But Kevin Appleby, legislative lobbyist for the Maryland Catholic Conference, said the important studies will be those that track former welfare recipients over the long term.

"Studies have shown that those who obtain jobs initially already have some education and employment skills and are thus likely to find a job," said Appleby. "The real test will come when those who are on welfare and who have no skills are forced because of welfare limits to find work."

Pub Date: 10/01/97

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