Like many states, Arizona is grappling with a historic budget shortfall and faces complex decisions about what programs and services to reduce or eliminate. In response to the 2010 budget, the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES) made a series of cuts, including $13.5 million in the Cash Assistance welfare program. The state was wise not to cut welfare-to-work programs that are designed to move recipients off the welfare rolls and into self-sufficiency. Arizona should consider additional no-cost policies that would further save the state money and increase the number of people leaving welfare for gainful employment.
Other states have successfully used a variety of policies that achieve large savings and transition families off of welfare and into the workforce. In Georgia, a combination of welfare reform strategies significantly increased its work participation rate from 11 percent to 65 percent in just three years. Through a stronger welfare-to-work and job preparation program, tougher work requirements, reductions in fraud and abuse, and better sanction policies for noncompliance, Arizona could save millions in welfare spending while improving thousands of lives. This paper explores those policy options that can best help Arizona meet the challenges facing its budget as well as its welfare population, including:
1. Setting a higher goal for work participation in the welfare program. Currently only 13.5 percent of Arizona welfare recipients participate in work programs.
2. Instituting immediate job preparation and job search strategies for new welfare recipients.
3. Enacting stronger sanction policies for those able-bodied recipients unwilling to participate in work or job preparation.
4. At a minimum, establishing equal work requirements for citizens and non-citizens, instead of giving non-citizens an advantage.
5. Eliminating fraud and abuse in cases where payments are supposed to be directed to a child.
6. Partnering with more private-sector companies and community organizations that can better meet the needs of recipients.