Legislature(2001 - 2002)

04/24/2002 09:16 AM FIN

Audio Topic
* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
     SENATE CS FOR CS FOR HOUSE BILL NO. 402(HES)                                                                               
     "An Act  relating to diversion  payments, wage subsidies,  cash                                                            
     assistance,  and self- sufficiency services provided  under the                                                            
     Alaska  temporary  assistance  program;  relating  to the  food                                                            
     stamp  program; relating  to child support  cases that  include                                                            
     persons  who   receive  cash  assistance  or  self-sufficiency                                                             
     services  under the  Alaska temporary  assistance program;  and                                                            
     providing for an effective date."                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
                                                                                                                                
This  was the first  hearing  for this  bill in  the Senate  Finance                                                            
Committee.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE   FRED  DYSON,  the  bill's  sponsor,   informed  the                                                            
Committee  that the  previous year,  an outside  audit [copy  not on                                                            
file] had conducted on  the State's public assistance plan, and that                                                            
the recommendations  of that audit "are encapsulated  in this bill."                                                            
He  stated that  this  bill represents  the  "next step  in  welfare                                                            
programs," by placing "in  statute and practice the whole concept of                                                            
work first."  He communicated that  the emphasis of this  program is                                                            
to take  a  combination of  "public  assistance monies,  food  stamp                                                            
monies  and other  available  funding  to subsidize  employment  for                                                            
welfare applicants." He  stated, "it is a paradigm shift" for when a                                                            
person  applies for  welfare benefits,  instead of  being placed  on                                                            
welfare  and receiving  a  welfare check,  they are  first  directed                                                            
toward becoming  employed and receiving  a paycheck. He stated  that                                                            
this  approach to  the welfare  system  has been  successful in  the                                                            
State  of  Oregon   where  the  people  in  the  program   have  had                                                            
significant success in  retaining their jobs, and the private sector                                                            
is delighted  to  "get workers  to fill  jobs that  were  marginally                                                            
economical before."  He noted this proposed program  is supported by                                                            
the  Administration   and  the  Department  of  Health   and  Social                                                            
Services.                                                                                                                       
                                                                                                                                
Representative Dyson qualified  that two components of this bill are                                                            
not  endorsed  by  the Administration:   the first  being  the  more                                                            
stringent  sanctions placed  on individuals  who do not comply  with                                                            
the directives to obtain  employment; and the second being a program                                                            
participant  limit of  25 percent  of the total  number of  eligible                                                            
welfare  recipients. He  stated that  the Administration  favors  no                                                            
restriction  on the  number of participants  in  the program  at any                                                            
given time.  He informed that  the 25 percent  cap is based  on both                                                            
Alaska's  employment  studies   as  well  as  the Oregon   program's                                                            
experience.  He   urged  the  Committee  to  support   the  bill  as                                                            
presented.                                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
Senator Leman commended  Representative Dyson, Senator Green and the                                                            
Department  for their constructive  work on  this bill. He  endorsed                                                            
the legislation  and  stated that  the Senate  Health Education  and                                                            
Social Services  committee  substitute is  an acceptable  compromise                                                            
for it instills  incentives for the Department of  Health and Social                                                            
Services to revise  the welfare program as the Legislature  intends,                                                            
in a "compassionate" manner.                                                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Co-Chair   Donley  stated   that   his  inclination   is  to   trust                                                            
Representative  Dyson and  Senator  Green's judgment.  He asked  why                                                            
national studies  imply that Alaska  has exerted minimal  efforts in                                                            
addressing welfare reform.                                                                                                      
                                                                                                                                
Representative   Dyson  responded   that   statistics  indicate   "a                                                            
remarkable  reduction" of  the number of  individuals on welfare  in                                                            
the State. He  stated "there needs to be a cultural  shift," to find                                                            
jobs, help create jobs  and to employ the people needing these jobs,                                                            
which  involves hiring  administrative  people with  a "passion  and                                                            
vision," in addition to  adopting enabling State statutes. He stated                                                            
it is the  Legislature's  duty to enact legislation  to support  the                                                            
process, and "it is the  Administration's job to find the people who                                                            
really have a passion" to make the changes happen.                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
Senator  Green noted  that as  part of  the federal  welfare  reform                                                            
legislation,  Congress granted  "American Indian  waiver" status  to                                                            
the State of  Alaska that allows Native  people who are residing  in                                                            
rural  areas  or other  areas  of  the State  where  "economic  non-                                                            
viability"  limits employment opportunities,  to be exempt  from the                                                            
five-year  (60-month)  limitation on  welfare benefits.  She  stated                                                            
that because the "substantial  number of people" granted waivers are                                                            
not included  in the total  number of participants  in which  the 25                                                            
percent  limitation  is calculated,  she  supports  the proposed  25                                                            
percent  cap. She  informed  the Committee  that  the limitation  on                                                            
participation  in the federal work-first  program is 20 percent  and                                                            
that the  State of  Oregon, which  has a higher  number of  exempted                                                            
individuals than Alaska, has a 30 percent cap.                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
Co-Chair Donley  asked whether there  is a limit on how long  people                                                            
could receive welfare benefits.                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
Representative  Dyson responded that there is a limit  of 60-months;                                                            
however,  unlimited waivers  are granted  to "severely handicapped"                                                             
individuals  or  those who  serve  as caretakers  to  a handicapped                                                             
child.                                                                                                                          
                                                                                                                                
Representative Dyson voiced  concern that the Department would grant                                                            
waivers  to individuals  "just  because  there is  no  job in  their                                                            
area."  He asserted  that  people  should live  in areas  where  job                                                            
opportunities  exist,  and  he  exampled  that  Alaska's  indigenous                                                            
people historically  followed  caribou herds;  in other words  they,                                                            
"moved to where the resource was."                                                                                              
                                                                                                                                
Representative  Dyson  stated  that  the Department  of  Health  and                                                            
Social Services  has assured him that  waivers would not  be granted                                                            
to people  "just  because" they  live in  an area  with limited  job                                                            
opportunities. He expressed  that the proposed program would provide                                                            
training  and other  life skills  with the expectation  that  people                                                            
would relocate.                                                                                                                 
                                                                                                                                
Senator  Green expressed  that this  legislation  would provide  the                                                            
Department  "with a great  tool" to encourage  some welfare  benefit                                                            
recipients "who have been  reluctant or have refused" to participate                                                            
in job training  programs or go for interviews, to  reenter the work                                                            
force. She  stated the  current system is  inefficient and  "doesn't                                                            
serve either the  Department or the client well at  all" as there is                                                            
no incentive  for people to seek employment;  wherein, the  proposed                                                            
legislation  would deny benefits  to individuals  if they refuse  to                                                            
participate in the training and employment program.                                                                             
                                                                                                                                
JIM NORDLUND,  Director, Division  of Public Assistance,  Department                                                            
of Health and Social Services,  stated that Representative Dyson and                                                            
Senator Green have presented the bill in an accurate manner.                                                                    
                                                                                                                                
Senator  Green asked  the  testifier  whether the  Department  would                                                            
offer any  recommendations  to the Governor  regarding signing  this                                                            
bill into law.                                                                                                                  
                                                                                                                                
Mr. Nordlund  commented that  the final version  of bill would  be a                                                            
factor  in  any  recommendation.   He stated   that  the  Department                                                            
supports no limitation  on the number of participants in the program                                                            
because State  law specifies criteria  as to who would or  would not                                                            
be eligible. However,  he noted that the proposed  25 percent cap is                                                            
an improvement  over the  current 20 percent  limit. He stated  that                                                            
the Department's concerns  about denial of benefits to people who do                                                            
not participate in the  program have been addressed in the committee                                                            
substitute.                                                                                                                     
                                                                                                                                
Co-Chair Kelly ordered the bill HELD in Committee.                                                                              

Document Name Date/Time Subjects