From the Office of State Senator Rodney Ellis

For Immediate Release
May 26, 1997
Contact: Rick Svataro, (512) 463-0113

Texas Senate Approves Measure to Make Welfare-to-Work Transition A Success

AUSTIN, Tx. -- The Texas Senate today passed legislation to ensure success for both low-wage workers and welfare recipients as the state moves thousands of recipients of public assistance into the workforce. House Bill 3116 by State Rep. Sherri Greenberg (D-Austin) and Senator Rodney Ellis (D-Houston) prohibits employers from displacing existing workers simply to take advantage of a state-offered subsidy. The legislation also provides participants in workfare programs with basic protections such as the right not to be discriminated against or harassed on the basis of race, gender or religious beliefs.

"Every Texan -- worker and welfare recipient alike -- deserves to be treated with dignity and respect," said Ellis. "As we move families from welfare to work, we must ensure that welfare recipients succeed along with existing workers, not at their expense."

Federal welfare reform passed in 1996 has increased pressure on states to move welfare recipients into the workforce. According to the Comptroller of Public Accounts, Texas must provide work activities for 25 percent of public assistance recipients in fiscal year 1997 or face stiff financial penalties. Work participation requirements will increase 5 percent each year until 2002 -- when 50 percent of welfare recipients must be working at least 30 hours a week -- about 88,000 Texans using current enrollment figures.

To address this challenge, Greenberg and Ellis said Texas and other states are developing subsidized employment initiatives such as wage subsidies, tax credits and other programs in which a welfare recipient is required to work for an employer in exchange for the benefits they receive.

"This bill is important to protect hardworking, low-income citizens from being pushed out of jobs just to end up on welfare themselves," said Greenberg. "To make welfare reform a success, we should focus on creating new jobs, not merely recycling existing ones."

"Without these protections, many low-wage workers would fall back into the welfare system creating a counterproductive cycle for both workers and taxpayers," said Ellis. "Welfare reform must have as its goal self-sufficiency for low-income families. That's what this legislation is all about."