GAO Hosts Welfare Reform Workshop

The General Accounting Office this week will hold a working seminar to launch a comprehensive review it has planned on state welfare processing systems. GAO is looking to launch a study on the overall ability of state systems to accommodate program changes required by 1996 welfare reform legislation.

The July 1 meeting will include representatives from state and federal agencies who will brief GAO on the direction it should take on the upcoming review.

"Right now I can't say much beyond the fact that we are going to take a close look at state information systems and states' ability to provide to the federal government information relative to state Temporary Assistance to Needy Families programs. It's just too early," said Mark Nadel, GAO's associate director for income security matters. Nadel said the review will focus on welfare requirements and systems capacity and will not cover procurement or equipment-buying issues. "We will not do a systems acquisition sort of review but will deal primarily with issues of content," he said.

Nadel said the group will include chief information officers and human services technology managers. Federal representatives will come from the Department of Health and Human Services and the Census Bureau. "The original idea was to use the seminar to educate each other and the significant players in this area," Nadel said. The Rockefeller Institute of Government is co-sponsoring the seminar.

Nadel and staff just this month produced a related but more general welfare reform report for Congress that detailed progress that states have made in revamping programs to reduce welfare dependence.

GAO gave states some high marks on reducing their welfare rolls and underscored the importance of states' ability to track recipients who move off welfare into the work force. GAO worked with seven states — California, Connecticut, Louisiana, Maryland, Oregon, Texas and Wisconsin — on the more general report and may take a similar tack in its systems report, Nadel said.

The Rockefeller Institute in a discussion paper drafted this spring capsulized some of the issues GAO might address in its review. Topics included the new roles of federal, state and local governments in welfare processing and the adaptation of state systems to reflect the devolution of welfare.

GAO might also explore the ability of welfare processing systems to interface with other systems, such as those maintained by public schools, work force development programs, child-support enforcement, Medicaid and food stamps.

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