Welfare work targets met
Hawaii already has achieved job placement goals proposed in legislation before Congress
Hawaii is one of 10 states that already have met goals for putting welfare recipients to work, prior to a U.S. House vote on the new requirements.
The legislation, approved by the Senate, requires states to place at least half of welfare families in jobs or approved training programs or face withholding of federal funds.
With 66 percent of Hawaii's former welfare recipients working or in training programs, the state ranks fifth among states, according to 2003 statistics, the latest compiled by the federal government.
Other states meeting the new threshold are Illinois (58 percent); Kansas (88 percent); Massachusetts (61 percent); Montana (86 percent); Ohio (62 percent); Oregon ( 60 percent); South Carolina (54 percent); Wisconsin (67 percent); and Wyoming (83 percent). The average work participation rate for all states and territories is 31 percent.
Hawaii met the new standards before they take effect by "making a big investment in positive prevention programs," Lillian Koller, director of the state Department of Human Services, said yesterday.
The state has spent $28 million of federal welfare funds over the last two years for programs that emphasize job readiness, character building and healthy choices for youth, Koller said.
She pointed to state contributions to private nonprofit organizations such as the Salvation Army, Boys and Girls Clubs, Parents and Children Together, YWCA, Hina Mauka and Goodwill Industries as good uses of funds, as opposed to cash payments to families on welfare.
The federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) as the main public welfare program in 1996, Koller said.
Koller said Hawaii's rank among other states shows that it is on the right track in spending for preventive programs.
Her department and the Lingle administration are asking the state Legislature to lift its restrictions on spending $35 million of the $99 million a year Hawaii receives from the federal government for welfare spending.
Wade Horn, the Bush administration's point man on welfare issues, said he is confident that states will do better if told they must.
"There is really good evidence that when states put their mind to it, they can dramatically increase the work participation rate," said Horn, Department of Health and Human Services assistant secretary for families and children.
During a visit to Hawaii last week, Horn praised the state's progress, Koller said yesterday.
"As he went throughout the state, he saw so many of our new TANF programs and he was impressed," Koller said.
If Congress moves ahead, states would have until Oct. 1 to get their work participation requirements up to 50 percent. They would have until Oct. 1, 2007, before penalties kick in.
This week Hawaii also was recognized with a $508,000 "high performance" bonus from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for its efforts to ensure that state residents who qualify for food stamps actually get them.
With a 92 percent access rate, Hawaii was one of four states recognized for a high ratio of qualified residents who receive food stamps. The others were Louisiana, Missouri and the District of Columbia, according to a release from Koller's office.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.