Welfare Reform Working for Most

New Program to Help Recipients with Disabilities

By Mark Wilde

Many parents participating in the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) are finding employment and moving off of public assistance, according to a report recently released by the Minnesota Department of Human Services. But some groups, including people with disabilities, are still struggling to become self-sufficient.

MFIP replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) as the federally mandated welfare program in January 1998. It provides food stamp and cash assistance to individuals with dependent children who are not able to independently support themselves.

(In Minnesota, a single parent with one child can expect to receive $629 a month in cash and food stamp grants, along with medical assistance and childcare.)

The new program puts an emphasis on employment and limits individuals to 60 months of total lifetime benefits. When it was first enacted, advocates for low-income people were concerned that many would get left behind, but so far the program seems to be working for most people.

Longitudinal Study Finds Many Successes

Over the course of the six-month study 24 percent of the participants had left MFIP, according to the February 2000, Minnesota Family Investment Program Longitudinal Study. A majority of those people gave increased income as one of the main reasons for leaving the welfare rolls.

Even those individuals who had not left public assistance were working at an increased level. While the largest category of recipients were still unemployed and on MFIP, nearly as many were employed and on MFIP, according to the study.

Those that were still on MFIP, but holding down jobs were confident they could eventually reduce their dependency on public assistance. 86 percent of the employed were very sure they would be able to keep a job for six months and 49 percent were very sure they would be able to move up to a higher paying job, according to the study.

One of the main barriers to finding employment for those still unemployed and on public assistance was disability. “Twenty percent of the unemployed said they had an ongoing disability that they thought prevented them from working,” according to the report.

Other barriers such as lack of transportation, child care availability and child care costs, were cited by the study participants as reasons for remaining unemployed, but disability is still a major area of concern.

Some advocates say as many as 80 percent of people still receiving public assistance have some sort of disability that has often gone undiagnosed and untreated. A new program hopes to help those people make a successful transition form welfare to work.

Rehabilitation Services Focuses on Removing Barriers.

Run by the Minnesota Department of Economic Security, the Welfare to Work Services unit of Rehabilitation Services (RS) assists welfare recipients to make the transition from public assistance to work, giving them the personal attention and access to resources they may not get in a regular program.

Based on a team approach, the RS counselors work with the consumer and the MFIP employment counselor to develop and implement a coordinated Employment Plan. The counselor acts as an additional support for that person to identify and overcome their barriers to employment.

One of the most important components of the new program is its emphasis on assessment. For example, one of the first people served was almost banned from an Employment and Training program because of her unruly behavior. Her rehabilitation counselor encouraged her to obtain a psychological evaluation to learn more about herself. It was discovered that she was eligible for Social Security benefits based on a cognitive disability.

“She just was not able to understand what they were asking her to do at the Workforce Center, all the forms and instructions,” her counselor said. “She compensated for her disability through aggression, and it just wasn’t working until we got her properly assessed.”

So far, the hourly requirement for the MFIP program has been the biggest challenge for RS counselors and their clients. According to the rules of the program, individuals who are receiving public assistance need to be in an approved activity for a certain number of hours each week.

These activities can include job search, housing search or employment. Most people are required to do at least 30 hours a week. The evaluation process associated with the RS program takes time, however. Setting up appointments and waiting for doctor’s results, often does not give participants enough hours to meet the requirements.

Yet, counselors in the program realize this assessment is essential to help people learn how they can accommodate for their disability, become self-advocates, and succeed in their personal goals. It’s a difficult balancing act, but they are committed to working with the rules of the existing MFIP program.

For more information about Rehabilitation Services’ Welfare to Work services, contact Allan Lunz, Rehabilitation Area Manager (612) 821-4421. To get a copy of the longitudinal study visit the Department of Human Services web site at www.dhs.state.mn.us.

Mark Wilde is a long time advocate for people with disabilities, and currently works as an MFIP job counselor.