HD22 - Making Welfare Work: Virginia's Transformation from Dependency to Opportunity

Executive Summary:
Virginia's first two years in welfare reform have successfully changed the course of welfare from a government handout to a principled work first reform. When Governor Allen signed Virginia's landmark welfare reform initiative in March of 1995, he advocated for the principles of personal responsibility and work ethic. These strong messages, combined with temporary cash assistance, created the atmosphere for thousands of welfare recipients to begin making the transition from welfare to work. Welfare's new course, the Virginia Independence Program (VIP) and its work component, the Virginia Initiative for Work not Welfare (VIEW), has been guided by clear messages, adequate resources, a case-worker rejuvenation, and community involvement.

Clear Messages

Welfare reform provided clear messages that recipients must begin to take responsibility for their lives. Recipients responded favorably to these messages.

• Virginia's welfare caseload has plummeted over 33 percent, from 73,926 families in March 1995 to 49,609 in July 1997.

• Nearly 12,000 VIEW participants have signed personal responsibility agreements to find and secure employment.

• Statewide, nearly 8,000 VIEW participants obtained employment as of June 30, 1997; most (7,379) found unsubsidized jobs.

• A high 88 percent of VIEW participants who had wages reported to the Virginia Employment Commission were still working one quarter later, and 7 1 percent were still working two quarters later.

• A 94 percent increase in the number of AFDC/TANF-UP, or two-parent families, combined with the overall decline in the AFDC/TANF caseload, accounted for a more than 180 percent increase in the percentage of the AFDC/TANF caseload that were two-parent families.

• A high 86 percent of minor parents are living with their own parent as a result of the VIP minor parent residency requirement.

• Only 2.956 cases, less than 3 percent, out of the 112,885 active AFDC/TANF cases in the first two program years were sanctioned for failure to cooperate with establishing paternity.

• Families responded to the message that school attendance is important. Only 1,734 children, or less than 1 percent of the estimated 188,800 children that received AFDC/TANF during the first two VIP program years, were sanctioned for failing to attend school regularly.

Adequate Resources

Welfare recipients and caseworkers had the resources they needed to succeed. These up-front investments allowed individuals to find employment and begin to be self-supporting.

• A total of $1 1,963,112, or an average of $1,002 for each of the 11,94 1 VIEW enrollees, was spent on VIEW administration in the 51 first and second year VIEW localities.

• Virginia spent almost $9.7 million to provide child care to VIEW children, assisting mothers on welfare to seek and maintain employment -- $9.0 million for active VIEW participants and an additional $0.7 million for transitional day care after VIEW participants left AFDC/TANF with employment.

• Virginia spent $2.5 million to cover training and education activities, as well as to provide supportive services to remove barriers to an individual's participation in VIEW.

• In addition to their earned income, employed VIEW participants on average received an extra $175 a month in AFDC/TANF benefits, when their earned income was disregarded up to 100 percent of poverty.

• Localities spent $900,000 in state planning grants to partner with their business communities and generate innovative welfare reform hiring campaigns.

• A total of $2.5 million was used to develop regional transportation initiatives for VIEW participants.

• Declining caseloads, coupled with increased earnings by program participants, led to significant taxpayer savings. Virginia spent $101 million less in welfare benefits in the last two years, producing a net taxpayer savings of over $57 million.

• Virginia has not created welfare jobs. Welfare recipients working at unsubsidized jobs have earned over $22.3 million in the regular economy.

Caseworker Rejuvenation

Welfare reform has given local social service professionals the tools they need to help their clients succeed. Their energy and leadership have been the engine of reform.

• The Secretary of Health and Human Resources Conference on Welfare Reform offered nearly 1,000 caseworkers and agency staff from localities across the Commonwealth the opportunity to network and learn from their peers. Enthusiastic participants made this conference a resounding success.

• Caseworkers demonstrated their commitment to service by working on the various aspects of their cases in a timely manner. Localities generally met high standards of timeliness in the areas of mandatory VIEW referrals within a 30 day time frame and work activity placement of their VIEW enrollees within a 90 day time frame.

• The Diversionary Assistance Program made it possible for caseworkers to help families avoid dependency on AFDC/TANF. Diversionary Assistance, consisting of one-time cash payments, generally for transportation and housing needs, helped keep nearly 1,000 cases off AFDC/TANF.

• Social service professionals have made VIEW succeed. Compared to the former welfare system, which placed approximately 20 percent of participants in jobs, the VIEW program has placed 62 percent of eligible participants in jobs.

Community Involvement

Core to the success of any welfare reform is the support and assistance of the community. Virginia's businesses, faith communities, and non-profit organizations have rallied around Governor Allen's welfare reform initiative.

• Virginia's Partners In Prevention, sponsored by the departments of Health and Social Services, is a statewide initiative to reduce unintended births. Regional forums and town meetings involving more than 2,500 individuals were held across the state, and more than 100 Virginia communities have signed up as Partners in Prevention. Community plans incorporate a mixture of strategies to improve public awareness and communication, both within the family and the community.

• The Fauquier Office of Virginia Cooperative Extension, in partnership with the Virginia Department of Social Services, the faith community, and various non-profit partners, formed the Family Resource Network. The Family Resource Network involved the community through a county Welfare Reform Summit and developed an Adult-to-Adult Mentoring Model that tailors education to individual family needs, covering financial, nutrition, parenting, and employment issues.

• Alexandria Works!, a coalition of businesses, non-profit and religious organizations, educational institutions, and government agencies, provides leadership and support for effective welfare reform in the City of Alexandria. It addresses such issues as job development and placement, the roles of charitable and religious organizations, and child care concerns.

• PEOPLE Incorporated, the community action agency serving some of Virginia's poorest counties in the Bristol area, has developed a highly successful comprehensive micro enterprise program that empowers low-income individuals and families to start their own businesses.

• As an integrated part of the community, Virginia's businesses have responded positively to the challenge and opportunity presented by welfare reform. More than 2,700 Virginia businesses demonstrated community leadership through hiring VIEW participants during the first eighteen months of welfare reform.

• The Greater Richmond Chamber of Commerce entered into a first-of-its-kind contract with Richmond area social services agencies to place nearly 1,700 welfare recipients in private sector jobs. Never before has the whole business community sought contractual responsibility for a welfare-to-work program.

• Gateway 2000, a computer company in Newport News, hired over 140 recipients. Forty-four recipients were promoted and 90 percent stayed on the job at least one year.

• Food Lion has partnered with the Commonwealth to provide up to 1,000 jobs for welfare recipients across the state.

• During the first two program years, more than 1,300 VIEW participants had Community Work Experience jobs at a variety of state and local public agencies and non-profit organizations.

• Strategies to Elevate People (STEP), a coalition of churches mentoring families in Gilpin Court, the largest federal housing project between Washington D.C. and Atlanta, opened a nine-week work readiness academy to 25 Richmond welfare recipients. Nineteen recipients secured jobs within weeks of completion.

Child Support Initiatives

• Childcheaters - KidsFirst Campaign. During the past year, as part of Governor Allen's KidsFirst Campaign, over 12,394 delinquent fathers paid $8.0 million in cash and agreed to millions more through payment plans. The KidsFirst Campaign uses amnesty offers and stiff law enforcement crackdowns to heighten the importance of child support in raising the post-welfare wage.


Clear messages, adequate resources, rejuvenated caseworkers, and community involvement have paved the way for welfare recipients and their families to succeed. The next stage of welfare reform is ensuring continued success through vigorous child support enforcement efforts. Children should be able to expect the support of both parents, and Governor Allen's KidsFirst Campaign has sent the message that failure to support a family is unacceptable.

Communities across the Commonwealth have demonstrated that welfare recipients and their children deserve opportunities to become independent.

Virginia has proven that welfare works!