Legislature(1995 - 1996)
03/27/1995 10:15 AM HES
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SENATE HEALTH, EDUCATION AND SOCIAL SERVICES COMMITTEE March 27, 1995 10:15 a.m. MEMBERS PRESENT Senator Lyda Green, Chairman Senator Loren Leman, Vice-Chairman Senator Mike Miller Senator Johnny Ellis Senator Judy Salo MEMBERS ABSENT All members present. COMMITTEE CALENDAR SENATE BILL NO. 98 "An Act making changes related to the aid to families with dependent children program, the Medicaid program, the general relief assistance program, and the adult public assistance program; directing the Department of Health and Social Services to apply to the federal government for waivers to implement the changes where necessary; relating to eligibility for permanent fund dividends of certain individuals who receive state assistance, to notice requirements applicable to the dividend program; and providing for an effective date." SB 134 (ATWOOD CHAIR OF JOURNALISM AT U OF AA) was scheduled, but not heard this date. HB 108 (USE PFD'S TO RECOVER WELFARE OVERPAYMENTS) was scheduled, but not heard this date. PREVIOUS SENATE COMMITTEE ACTION SB 98 - See Health, Education & Social Services minutes dated 3/8/95, 3/10/95, 3/13/95, 3/17/95, 3/22/95, 3/24/95 and 3/25/95. SB 134 - No previous action to record. HB 108 - No previous action to record. WITNESS REGISTER Portia Babcock,Staff Senator Green State Capitol Juneau, Alaska 99801-1182 POSITION STATEMENT: Offered additional information. Jim Nordlund, Director Division of Public Assistance Department of Health & Social Services PO Box 110640 Juneau, Alaska 99811-0640 POSITION STATEMENT: Discussed the positive and negative aspects of SB 98. Curt Lomas, Welfare Reform Program Division of Public Assistance Department of Health & Social Services PO Box 110640 Juneau, Alaska 99811-0640 POSITION STATEMENT: Offered additional information. Deborah Craig, Director Project Career Course Project Independence POSITION STATEMENT: Discussed the findings of Project Independence. ACTION NARRATIVE TAPE 95-26, SIDE A SB 98 PERSONAL RESPONSIBILITY ACT OF 1995 Number 002 CHAIRMAN GREEN called the Senate Health, Education and Social Services (HESS) Committee to order at 10:15 a.m. She introduced SB 98 as the only order of business before the committee; SB 134 and HB 108 will be taken up at a later date. SENATOR LEMAN moved that the CS, Lauterbach O version 3/24/95, be adopted for discussion and mark up purposes. Hearing no objection, the CS was adopted. CHAIRMAN GREEN noted that there were amendments. SENATOR LEMAN moved that Amendment 1 be adopted. Hearing no objection, Amendment 1 was adopted. CHAIRMAN GREEN pointed out that most of these amendments were suggested by the agency and the department on Friday and Saturday. Number 038 SENATOR LEMAN moved that Amendment 2 be adopted. Hearing no objection, Amendment 2 was adopted. SENATOR LEMAN moved that Amendment 3 be adopted. Hearing no objection, Amendment 3 was adopted. SENATOR LEMAN moved that Amendment 4 be adopted. He indicated that with regard to Amendment 4, he was not convinced that other things should not be done regarding alcohol and drug use. He expressed concern with people taking welfare money and investing it into this activity, but he realized that this issue is beyond the scope of this. He removed any objection to the amendment. CHAIRMAN GREEN stated that this may not be the appropriate time to address this issue. She noted the possibility of a voucher system in order to tackle this issue. Without objection, Amendment 4 was adopted. SENATOR LEMAN moved that Amendment 5 be adopted. Hearing objection, Amendment 5 was adopted. SENATOR LEMAN moved that Amendment 6 be adopted. He explained that this amendment deals with the establishment of paternity which is a lengthy process. Perhaps the drafter could make this more concise which would be a technical change. Number 105 CHAIRMAN GREEN commented that it was interesting that on the one hand the department wanted the language in order to secure information about the father and to require participation in the support of the child. On the other, the department is also concerned with the length of time required in the establishment of paternity. She noted that the governor's bill would be heard. Hearing no objection, Amendment 6 was adopted. SENATOR ELLIS asked if Chairman Green was referring to the governor's welfare reform bill. CHAIRMAN GREEN clarified that she was referring to SB 115 regarding child support; the governor's welfare reform bill is not scheduled at this time. SENATOR ELLIS asked if Chairman Green planned to schedule the governor's welfare reform bill. CHAIRMAN GREEN said that she did not know and stated that she had not made a decision. SENATOR ELLIS encouraged the Chair to consider scheduling it in the near future. SENATOR LEMAN moved that Amendment 7 be adopted. Amendment 7 would change workfare to a project area. Senator Leman felt that it would be better statewide, however, he understood the costs and difficulties the department would face with the implementation of this. This is a big step in the right direction. He predicted that the four project areas would be a great success and other areas would want to participate. CHAIRMAN GREEN noted that this was intended to give the department flexibility. Number 166 SENATOR SALO felt that Amendment 7 was conceptually good. If the intention is to move this bill out of committee today, Senator Salo asked what the actual language for Amendment 7 would be. SENATOR LEMAN commented that the language should be similar to his welfare reform bill last year. PORTIA BABCOCK, staff to Senator Green, pointed out that SB 98 had this section in an earlier draft. CHAIRMAN GREEN clarified that it was in the first version of SB 98. CHAIRMAN GREEN announced that Amendment 7 was adopted. She asked if there was anyone present who wished to testify. JIM NORDLUND, Director of the Division of Public Assistance for the Department of Health and Social Services, thanked the the committee for their extension of courtesy in allowing he and other members of the Administration to work on this legislation. In his opinion, the bill has improved although some problems remain. He noted that his comments would be directed to the old CS and the adopted amendments. Mr. Nordlund felt that this bill applies some risky and untested ideas on a permanent statewide basis. These are costly programs that affect the lives of thousands of people; more care should be taken in applying some of the provisions in this bill. The governor's approach applies demonstration projects for a limited time in order to discover if the projects work. He pointed out that the difference between the old version of SB 98 and the previous version is that these changes are made to permanent law. With the exception of the workfare amendment, the projects would be applied on a permanent and statewide basis. Other provisions remain too costly, unworkable, untested, illegal and unconstitutional. More work is necessary to achieve a workable welfare reform proposal. Mr. Nordlund identified the following improvements to SB 98: the phased in sanctions of various provisions, the deletion of any reference to aliens, the deletion of the 15 percent participation requirement in the diversion project, the allowance of good cause for quitting a job, the less rigid paternity establishment requirements, the deletion of the APA rateable reduction, the deletion of the permanent fund dividend ineligibility section, and the inclusion of the self-sufficiency language as a statutory requirement of the department. Number 243 Mr. Nordlund identified the problems with the bill. The requirement of information from the department to be turned in regarding illegal aliens raises concerns with confidentiality. CHAIRMAN GREEN asked if they did not do that now. JIM NORDLUND explained that the department is not required nor allowed under state and federal law to give out such information. Mr. Nordlund believed that the Department of Law had testified to that affect. JIM NORDLUND continued to cite problems with the bill. There would be difficulties in checking out the fraud histories of welfare recipients in other states. He pointed out that a criminal records check would have to done on every AFDC applicant which would pose a fiscal impact. The elimination of a benefit for an additional child born to a welfare recipient is an inaccurate approach; it punishes children. The governor's approach works towards pregnancy prevention counseling. Another problem with the bill is the time limits on benefits which do not provide an adequate transition to work. He noted the continued opposition to the rateable reduction provision. There was a rateable reduction to AFDC and APA a couple of years ago; the poor of Alaska have already given their share in the need to reduce the budget. He stated that the diversion project would not work as well if cash grants were not allowed. He acknowledged that there can potentially be misuse with those cash grants and the department would like to work with the committee to eliminate those abuses. CHAIRMAN GREEN asked if there was a way to compromise with the cash grants such as purchase orders, vouchers or direct payments. JIM NORDLUND said that those possibilities could be reviewed. JIM NORDLUND continued with his discussion of the problems with SB 98. The personal responsibility agreement should not be in statute. Recipients already sign an agreement which could be extended. He felt that by putting it in law, the provision becomes too rigid when the department will be facing a new welfare system. CHAIRMAN GREEN asked if a new administrator decides that he/she wanted to change the language of the existing agreement or eliminate it entirely, could he/she do that? JIM NORDLUND suggested that the agreement be adopted in regulation because it would be easier to change in regulation rather than statute. Mr. Nordlund noted that changes to regulation go through a public hearing process with adequate time for review. Number 309 JIM NORDLUND stated that the two-tier payment system is likely to be found unconstitutional. He pointed out that there would be difficulties in achieving the attendance verification under the learnfare provisions. The difficulty arises from the 53 separate school districts in Alaska that are all on different computer systems not to mention that a central recording system would be needed to report attendance to the Department of Education or to DPA. CHAIRMAN GREEN indicated that she had developed this idea through school administrators who were desperate to find a way in which to work with their families. She suggested writing the attendance on paper and sending it in. SENATOR SALO pointed out that the Chairman's suggestion assumes that the school person knows who receives public assistance which is not necessarily the case. She explained that if school districts established a definition of unacceptable attendance in regulation, the schools may be able to send in the names of students to DHSS who do not meet that regulation. Another problem arises with the matching of the names of students and parents. She clarified that with this list of students with unacceptable attendance, the names of those on public assistance could be searched. She hoped that this department would be well funded if they would be asked to do additional tasks. This is a reasonable requirement as long as the work of gathering the data is funded. CHAIRMAN GREEN reiterated that she had heard frustration from almost all the schools regarding the lack of participation from students and families. Perhaps, truancy laws should be enacted. SENATOR SALO informed the Chair that there are truancy laws, although they are unfunded. JIM NORDLUND noted that the Department of Education does have some problems in principles with this. He expressed concern with the ease with which this could be implemented. Maybe attendance verification should be implemented as a pilot project in an area in order to discover if it would work before applying it statewide. CHAIRMAN GREEN stated that the rural districts have indicated support of this provision. Number 361 JIM NORDLUND addressed another problem that remains in the bill. The denial of interim assistance benefits to people who are determined ineligible in their initial application. Many of those original denials are later found to be eligible. CHAIRMAN GREEN asked if interim assistance was a federal program. JIM NORDLUND replied yes. CHAIRMAN GREEN said that the federal government should fund interim assistance. JIM NORDLUND explained that the federal determination of whether an individual would receive those benefits is a lengthy process. The division provides interim assistance to be received between the time a person applies and the time they receive federal assistance. CHAIRMAN GREEN interjected that 20 of the original 100 applicants that were initially determined ineligible appeal and become eligible. CURT LOMAS, the Division of Public Assistance, explained that the Chair was essentially correct. He explained that the division is reimbursed for those individuals who are ultimately approved. The division can collect interim assistance from that individual's retroactive Supplemental Security Income (SSI). He noted that the division has an agreement with the federal government which allows that. He specified that this reimbursement only occurs with those applicants who are ultimately found to be eligible for assistance. CHAIRMAN GREEN explained that after calculations a total of 20 people qualify after being initially determined ineligible. SENATOR SALO said, in an attempt to understand this calculation, that 100 people are being paid interim assistance and only 20 of them would qualify for assistance in the end. Number 390 CURT LOMAS noted that everyone who is initially denied does not appeal. He explained that approximately 40 percent of the initial applicants are approved, approximately 60 percent of the applicants are initially denied; of those initially denied 60 percent appeal the denial. Of that 60 percent that appeal, approximately 50 percent of them are ultimately approved. SENATOR SALO understood that and emphasized that the most important factor in making a decision for interim assistance is how many applicants actually receive interim assistance and how many of those ultimately qualify. That information would provide an idea of whether or not interim assistance is appropriate. From 100 people that are receiving interim assistance, how many people are denied and how many actually qualify? CURT LOMAS did not believe the state was getting "burned" by anyone because these are people who have been determined disabled by an initial physician's examination which means that these people have some inability to function. The ultimate question is whether or not these individuals meet Social Security's very narrow definition of disfunction. He could not speak to how many interim assistance payments are made to people who ultimately do not qualify versus those who do qualify because that approach has never been taken. CHAIRMAN GREEN said that it would be in the amount of 36 or 40. SENATOR MILLER questioned why some people were being denied if Mr. Lomas did not believe that anyone was getting "burned." CURT LOMAS clarified that ultimately some of these people do not qualify, but they are all sick. SENATOR MILLER asked how much money would not be recovered because these people received interim assistance and then were ultimately determined ineligible. CURT LOMAS said that was a question he could not answer without paper and a calculator. CHAIRMAN GREEN inquired as to the average length of time a person would be in that phase. CURT LOMAS did not know. Number 435 SENATOR MILLER expressed disbelief that Mr. Lomas did not know the average length of time between an appeal and the final determination. CURT LOMAS ensured the committee that he had that information in the office, but he did not have it with him now. JIM NORDLUND said that he could get that information by the end of the day. Mr. Nordlund specified that Governor Hickel's veto letter did state that 60 percent of those denied were ultimately determined to be eligible upon appeal. JIM NORDLUND stated that the final problem with the bill is the statewide permanent application of some of the bill's projects which is not prudent. Those projects are untested, may be too expensive, and they may not achieve the intended results. CHAIRMAN GREEN asked if everything needed to be a pilot or demonstration project. JIM NORDLUND noted that he had handed out a sheet which listed which projects the division believes should not be done statewide and which should. SENATOR LEMAN commented that a good idea, a crime stopper fraud control, had been suggested at the previous Saturday hearing. Welfare recipients themselves seemed to be excited about that. He felt that the crime stopper approach to fraud control should be considered. In reference to the division's opposition to rateable reductions, Senator Leman pointed out that the numbers have not declined. The numbers have increased; this is the highest and fastest growing area of the state budget. He emphasized that the legislature ultimately budgets dollars and total amounts, not unit amounts. JIM NORDLUND noted that there is a difference between the amount of benefit paid and the number of people on the caseload. The governor's approach attempts to reduce the caseload in order to reduce the state's budget. For the people who remain on assistance, the determination of the adequacy of the benefit level is necessary. He explained that one of the important factors affecting case loads is the economy. If the economy falters then case loads would rise which would impact the state budget. The division wants to reduce the welfare payments in the state budget by getting people off the case load and into a permanent private sector job. SENATOR ELLIS asked if the previous rateable reduction used the rationale that the cuts would lead to a decrease in the case load. SENATOR LEMAN said that the goal was to decrease the total cost. Government should not be doing this in the first place; more should be done in the way of private compassion rather than government programs. People should become actively involved in needy people's lives. SENATOR ELLIS asked if it should be a law or should it be voluntary. SENATOR LEMAN asserted that it should be voluntary. SENATOR ELLIS asked what would happen if not enough people do become active privately. SENATOR LEMAN stated that was the difference between their two philosophies. Senator Leman identified Senator Ellis' philosophy as saying that government should offer a solution in case enough people do not help out privately. Senator Leman said that people need to do it and the legislators need to make it happen. Number 514 DEBORAH CRAIG, Director of the Project Career Course which facilitated the Project Independence, stated that she would like to offer some basic information regarding Project Independence. She pointed out that she was not present to influence any legislation. She has been involved with the AFDC population for approximately 10 years. She informed the committee that for the last six years she has facilitated a job training program, Project Career Course. Last year a multi-agency effort helped develop Project Independence. Ms. Craig explained that serving an exclusively AFDC population proved to be extremely labor intensive; staff needs were greater than previous job training programs. She informed the committee of the findings of the demonstration project with which she was involved. The program served people with an average age of 29 who were primarily women. The program served a 40 percent minority population, 60 percent of the program consisted of high school dropouts. Although only 20 percent of the program participants needed GEDs, overall participants needed preparatory work for training and employment. Almost 90 percent needed basic computer literacy. Ms. Craig pointed out that she was surprised to find a high incidence of mental health issues that were not expected nor for which they were prepared. She noted that 1 out of 10 Americans is alcoholic and 1 out of 9 Alaskans is alcoholic which is an issue. She explained that 29 percent of the students were impacted by alcohol and not necessarily by their own use. Those students were often impacted by alcohol use in their families. That information seems to correlate with the finding that 28 percent of the students were impacted by domestic violence, physically and emotionally, during the semester training was provided. Ms. Craig also seemed surprised at the amount of health issues that were not anticipated; 33 percent of the participants had health issues. She specified that this information does not imply that all AFDC recipients have mental health and health issues, but they were issues that arose. She noted that students averaged a three year full-time work experience which would allow them to move back into the work force. However, the range was from almost nothing to three years work experience which lead to the development of a multi-tiered process which addressed the various levels of need. All this information indicates the need for increased staffing. CHAIRMAN GREEN requested a copy of that information. She stated that she intended to move this bill out of committee today. Number 580 SENATOR LEMAN moved that CS SB 98 (HES) be moved out of committee with individual recommendations and accompanying fiscal notes. SENATOR ELLIS objected and asked that Chairman Green clarify the fiscal note of this committee. TAPE 95-26, SIDE B Number 583 CHAIRMAN GREEN said that there would be a fiscal note, but that it had not arrived yet. PORTIA BABCOCK clarified that the zero fiscal note was present because the committee had not received any fiscal notes. CHAIRMAN GREEN anticipated receiving the fiscal notes in Finance. SENATOR ELLIS interpreted that as meaning that the cost of the proposals were not known which did not allow discussion of the relative merits of particular proposals. SENATOR SALO spoke to her objection. She had hoped and had formerly requested that the committee review the governor's bill at the same time because the meshing of ideas of both bills would have created the best legislation. Upon a roll call vote, Senators Leman, Miller and Green voted "Yeah" and Senators Ellis and Salo voted "Nay." Therefore, CS SB 98 (HESS) was passed out of committee. There being no further business before the committee, the meeting adjourned at 11:05 a.m.