Welfare-to-Work Overhaul Boosts Fatherhood Groups

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It took 20 phone calls to persuade him, but 21-year-old Julius Armstrong - a noncustodial never-married father - finally said, "I've got to take charge of my life."

But there was a problem: he was disqualified from enrolling in a welfare-to-work program in Yonkers, N.Y., because the mother of his two-year-old son was not on welfare.

Such restrictions frustrated Barrington Southwell, a 25-year-old youth worker who'd been pursuing Armstrong since September from the Yonkers office of the D.C.-based Institute for Responsible Fatherhood and Family Revitalization. Working in the basement of a housing project, Southwell is one of several staffers at Responsible Fatherhood offices in six cities who knock on doors and case basketball courts, barbershops and street corners looking for unwed young fathers to recruit into a Department of Labor-funded welfare-to-work program created by the institute.

"We couldn't serve anyone who was receiving Medicaid or Social Security, only TANF, [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families]," recalled Southwell, who knew last fall that program changes were in the pipeline. "Recruitment takes awhile, and we were hoping to have him in place for the change."

The change came in January, when Congress broadened the eligibility requirements for the program. Armstrong signed up with the institute last month.

Until recently most fatherhood efforts were bankrolled by foundations such as Ford, Annie E. Casey and Charles Stewart Mott; but since 1998, the White House and Congress have channeled $350 million into fatherhood initiatives from the $3 billion Welfare-to-Work (WtW) Grants Program, authorized under the Budget Reconciliation Act of 1997.

"Without some modest assistance, fatherhood groups won't survive," notes Don Eberly, chairman of the board and co-founder of the Gaithersburg, Md.-based National Fatherhood Initiative (NFI).

Particularly unlikely to thrive, adds Preston Garrison, executive director of the National Practitioners Network for Fathers and Families, are "low-income focused community-based groups that come and go for lack of funds." Garrison estimates that there are 1,200 local fatherhood groups and "about a dozen" national efforts devoted to multi-state, multi-city fatherhood efforts and initiatives.

Grant Flexibility Urged

The welfare-to-work grants were enacted to complement the controversial Welfare Reform Bill of 1996, particularly the TANF block grant provision. The 1996 law limits most individual recipients to five years of cash benefits, though about half the states have set shorter limits to move beneficiaries off the roles into jobs. Welfare-to-Work funds, specifically designated for work-related activities and not for cash benefits, target the least employable welfare recipients and the noncustodial parents of children on welfare. Since only 5 percent of the nation's 3 million welfare families report a father in the home, lawmakers have concluded that a wage-earning dad - wed or unwed, living in the child's home or elsewhere - is a key to getting a family off welfare dependency.

Accordingly, a new law broadening welfare-to-work eligibility requirements, spearheaded by Reps. Nancy Johnson (R-Conn.) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.), passed the House last year (328-93) as part of the Fathers Count Act of 1999 - which then stalled. But House/Senate conferees lifted that provision and included it in the end-of-session Consolidated Appropriations Act of 1999.

Research, too, played a part in formulating new rules. A recent Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention publication, "Teenage Fatherhood and Delinquent Behavior," makes a grim case: a Rochester, N.Y. study showed that the probability of teen paternity rises "dramatically" as risk factors accumulate, while a Pittsburgh study found that teen fatherhood may be followed by greater involvement in delinquency because of escalating risk factors.

Add to this millions of dollars in welfare-to-work monies going untouched in state coffers because of strict eligibility requirements that cut out low-income urban custodial and noncustodial fathers, and "we have a very dangerous situation," observed Ken Canfield, founder of the Shawnee Mission, Kans.-based National Center for Fathering.

"No more millions for advertising campaigns and lectures," said Canfield. " We need to invest in our teen fathering infrastructure and re-frame their, and our, thinking about this complex problem."

"Change a man's heart, change his attitude, and the rest will take care of itself," said Charles Ballard, Responsible Fatherhood founder and CEO.

More Enrollees Expected

Karin Martinson, a consultant for the D.C.-based Urban Institute, estimates that the less restrictive requirements will make 50 to 65 percent more noncustodial fathers (or a total of 1.4 million) eligible for the WtW grant programs.

Department of Labor spokesman Peter Hamm reports that as of September 1999, nearly 110,000 persons were actively enrolled in all of the available competitive and formula welfare-to-work programs. "With the easing of the restrictions," said Hamm, "there will be a significant increase in the number of enrollees."

Under its more restrictive $4.4 million DOL grant (issued in 1998 and phasing out at the end of this month), Responsible Fatherhood has enrolled 1,081 men and women (or "proteges," as they are called) in its WtW "Turning Hearts" program - after initiating contacts with over 5,000 people. Nearly half (519) of those enrolled have been successfully placed in (and still retain) jobs in Responsible Fatherhood's six cities: Nashville, San Diego, Yonkers, Cleveland, Milwaukee and Washington, D.C.). The latter three are now armed with a new, more flexible $5.7 million DOL grant that took effect last October, under which Armstrong was admitted.

Ballard is going back to the program turndowns and dropouts now that loosened requirements and innovative touches - such as a finance program that will match a participant dollar-for-dollar when starting a savings account - make the program both more appealing and accessible.

"The old rules kept many people out of the program, " recalled Ken Sandifer, based in Milwaukee as the husband half of a married, live-in-the-neighborhood "managing partners" team, a concept in place at all Responsible Fatherhood sites.

For example: "While the first grant stipulated that all enrollees had to receive TANF payments, they could not qualify if a mother under 18 was receiving TANF 'kinship' payments signed over to an adult relative," Sandifer recalled about the dizzying confusion of old regulations that locked out large chunks of those whom welfare-to-work was designed to help.

"The new round of grants with the more flexible rules knocks out all those obstacles to enrolling," Sandifer said.

'Strategic Partners'

In addition to more recruits, this should translate into more referrals from Workforce Boards, Private Industry Councils and others for the 30-day Responsible Fatherhood job-readiness counseling sessions and job placements. With "Strategic Partners" such as the AFL-CIO, the Hyatt, Marriott and Hilton hotels, Pizza Hut and UPS, jobs offered include secretarial positions, cooks, cashiers, construction, welding and security, with starting wages averaging out at $7.25 an hour - a rate some 41 percent higher than the federal minimum wage of $5.15 per hour. If a protŽgŽ holds a position beyond the six-month monitoring period, the grant effort is considered a success.

"Some 71 percent of our proteges are still employed," said Allan Inman, Responsible Fatherhood's national director of welfare to work projects. "That's why we received another grant."

Milwaukee leads the other institute sites with 171 placements, ages 15 to 45. The six sites average a 50-50 split between males and females; male outreach workers tutor and mentor males, while females do the same for female clients.

Unchanged Rules Still Rile

Sandifer points out that local courts also make referrals, because welfare-to-work provisions - driven by a Congress determined to corral so-called "deadbeat dads" - still include the language of cross-referrals. That's where grantees, Workforce Boards, and other intake agencies must refer a welfare-to-work entrant who is delinquent in child support payments to the local courts.

Ballard believes in a "psychological, spiritual approach" to fatherhood programs, rather than efforts that weld cash-centered relationships between poor men and the child support agencies that pursue them. He makes the distinction, for instance, between the pejorative "dead-beat dads" to the "more realistic dead-broke dads" who make under $7,000 a year, if that.

Said Ballard: "We want men to be secure within themselves, and when this happens, care for the mother and children will go beyond child support."

Ballard's stance created a rift between Responsible Fatherhood and the Ford Foundation, which several years ago committed $10 million to the institute to run a large demonstration project; child support enforcement services were part of the what turned out to be contentious equation. Ford let the money run out and rolled on down the road to Jeffery Johnson's just-in-time group, the D.C.-based National Center for Strategic Nonprofit Planning and Community Leadership.

Only two court referrals have been made in Milwaukee, recalled Sandifer, and those involved anger management, not child support problems.

Sandifer admits those who do not fit strictly within welfare-to-work programs are not turned away. "We admit them to our sessions and allow them to seek the benefit of our counseling," he said.

Ballard and Sandifer are very aware of a problem touched on last year at a fatherhood conference sponsored by Johnson's Community Leadership group. "Why are there so many young men standing on the corner not working?" Obie Clayton of the Atlanta-based Morehouse Research Institute asked at one session. "Because the jobs are in the suburbs," he answered. "And there's no public transportation."

Under the DOL grant, Responsible Fatherhood managing partners can supply $50 a week to their protŽgŽs for transportation expenses if it is determined that it will be a hardship to report to a job found by the program. "Transportation and long traveling distances are a serious concern to those without funds, so we must give them what support we can on the road to self-sufficiency," Sandifer said.

Our Kindly Parent: The State

In Washington, Capitol Hill still buzzes with fatherhood talk. So do the presidential campaigns of George W. Bush and Al Gore, who have publicized their own takes on how they would support fatherhood endeavors. The remaining House-passed Fathers Count Act provisions that await action by the Senate include $140 million over two years for fatherhood programs that "promote marriage through counseling and teaching," and $5 million each in multi-year grants for a "national clearinghouse" (to be run by an organization with at least four years of experience in public education campaigns) and for two national organizations that have experience conducting multi-city programs.

The apparent shoe-ins for these funds, by virtue of criteria, are Johnson's National Center, Ballard's Institute for Responsible Fatherhood and Horn's National Fatherhood Initiative.

Johnson, on a business trip to South Africa at press time, was unavailable for comment. But Horn and Ballard were not shy.

"We'll take it," Horn said. "I'll make no apologies. We've been serving as a national clearinghouse and providing technical assistance for groups nationwide for six years."

Somewhat more cautiously, Ballard said,"I have high hopes the Senate Conference Committee will honor the intent of the legislation. We certainly qualify."

The new welfare-to-work regulations can be found at http://wtw.doleta.gov/laws-regs/99amendmemo.htm.