1997 Regular Session

To: Public Health and Welfare; Appropriations

By: Senator(s) White (29th)

Senate Bill 2156




SECTION 1. Section 43-49-11, Mississippi Code of 1972, is amended as follows:

43-49-11. (1) The State Department of Human Services shall conduct a program, in accordance with this section and any applicable waivers from the Secretary of the federal Department of Health and Human Services and the Secretary of the federal Department of Agriculture, which shall be known as the Work First Program, hereinafter referred to as the "program." The program shall be conducted for three (3) years, and it shall test of the effects of replacing certain welfare benefits with guaranteed paid employment. During the test, normal Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and Food Stamp benefits shall be suspended in six (6) counties in Mississippi, as designated by the Executive Director of Human Services with the approval of the Governor, which counties shall represent the different demographics, unemployment rates and job growth rates of the entire state. Persons otherwise eligible for those benefits shall participate in the program unless exempted by this section, and others in need of work shall be eligible for the program. The program shall assign participants to wage-paying public and private sector jobs designed to increase their self-sufficiency and improve their competitive position in the work force.

(2) The department shall amend the AFDC, Job Opportunities and Basic Skills (JOBS), and Food Stamp state plans to incorporate the program as the Mississippi JOBS program for the participating counties. The department shall administer the program and promulgate state regulations for operation of the program. In administering the program, the department shall actively encourage both public and private employers to utilize program participants, and ensure that, to the extent feasible, program job assignments match participant skills and experience with the needs of the employers.

(3) The target goals for the program are to reduce the AFDC caseload in the participating counties by fifty percent (50%) by the end of the third year of the program, and to reduce the costs associated with these programs by twenty-five percent (25%) over the three-year period. To the maximum extent permitted by federal law, and notwithstanding other provisions of Mississippi law, the department shall, through competitive procurement, engage the services of qualified public and private organizations to operate the program and to provide services incident to such operation, and shall incorporate in the resultant contracts to the extent feasible, performance-based incentive payments related to accomplishment of program goals.

(4) Under the program there shall be created in the State Treasury the Work First Program Special Fund, hereinafter called the "Program Special Fund." The Program Special Fund shall be administered by the department, and shall be used exclusively to meet the necessary expenditures of the program. All funds appropriated for expenditure by or apportioned to Mississippi for operation of the AFDC, JOBS and Food Stamp programs in the participating counties shall be deposited in the Program Special Fund. All payments by the department to participating employers for program participants shall be made from the Program Special Fund. In administering the Program Special Fund, the department shall, consistent with other provisions of this section and to the extent permitted by federal law, maximize the use of federal apportionments for the Food Stamp, AFDC and JOBS programs.

(5) Any resident of the participating counties who is eighteen (18) years of age or older who is receiving AFDC benefits or Food Stamps shall participate in the program unless exempted by this section. Noncustodial nonworking parents of AFDC children shall participate in the program in order to meet their child support obligations. County residents between sixteen (16) and eighteen (18) years of age who are in high school shall be exempt from mandatory participation in the program, but shall be eligible for summer work in the program. Any county resident who is working full time in a job that is not subsidized under the program shall be exempt from participation in the program.

(6)(a) Participants in the program shall be entitled to a maximum of forty (40) hours per week of employment in program jobs, as available, and shall be paid at the hourly rate of the federal minimum wage. Employers shall pay the participant the federal or state minimum wage, whichever is higher, for every participant hour worked.

(b) In addition to the participant wage, as defined in subsection (a), the employer shall pay One Dollar ($1.00) for each participant hour worked, into a qualified and, to the extent permitted by federal and state law, tax exempt or tax deferred Individual Development Account (IDA), as defined in regulations to be promulgated by the department. The IDA shall be owned by the participant, and expenditures shall be restricted to payment of necessary health care costs and costs of higher education for the participant and the participant's immediate family, and to use as retirement income for the participant.

(c) For each participant hour worked, the department shall reimburse the employer the amount of the federal or state minimum wage, whichever is higher, minus One Dollar ($1.00).

(d) The department shall make supplemental payments to families for which the participant wages, together with the federal Earned Income Tax Credit, are less than the combined value of the AFDC and Food Stamp benefits that the family otherwise would receive. The supplemental payments shall be in amounts which, when added to the amount of the participant wages, together with the Earned Income Tax Credit, will be equal to the combined value of the AFDC and Food Stamp benefits that the family otherwise would receive. The work expense disregard, earnings disregard and child care disregard shall not be applied in

determining the amount of the supplemental payments.

(e) Any participant may, at any time, choose to terminate participation in a program job assignment; and any participating employer may, at any time, choose to terminate the use of a participant in accordance with regulations of the department. The department shall endeavor to keep such terminations to a minimum and, when they occur, to provide expeditiously new jobs for the participants and new participants for the employers.

(f) Assignment of participants to available jobs shall be made on the basis of a preference schedule developed by the department, with priority given to employing those receiving AFDC or Food Stamp benefits. Those benefits shall be suspended when a program job is offered to the custodial parent in an AFDC family, or any adult member of a Food Stamp household, and the suspension shall occur immediately whether or not the offer is accepted.

(7) Recipients of AFDC benefits or Food Stamps in the participating counties whose AFDC or Food Stamp eligibility stems from eligibility for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits shall not be offered employment by the program, and thus shall not have their AFDC or Food Stamp benefits suspended.

(8) Program participants who are Medicaid-eligible at the time they enter the program shall remain Medicaid-eligible so long as they continue to participate. Participants needing child care shall be provided child care through the program.

(9) Every employer subject to the Mississippi unemployment tax shall be eligible for assignment of program participants, but no employer shall be required to utilize such participants. Employers shall provide on-the-job training to the degree necessary for the participants to perform their duties. Employers also shall recruit volunteer mentors from among their regular employees to assist the participants in becoming oriented to work and the workplace. Employers shall insure that jobs made available to program participants are in conformity with Section 3304(a)(5) of the Federal Unemployment Tax Act, which requires that the job offered cannot be available as a result of a strike or labor dispute, and that the job cannot require the employee to join nor prohibit the employee from joining a labor organization, and that program participants are not used to displace regular workers, nor to fill unfilled positions previously established. The job must also be one for which the program wage is not substantially less than the wage paid for similar jobs in the local community.

(10) Case management services under the JOBS program in the participating counties shall actively assist persons eligible to participate in the program in finding unsubsidized employment first, and if unable to find unsubsidized employment within a reasonable time for a participant, shall assign the participant to a subsidized job under the program.

(11) Annually during the three-year period of the program, the department shall report the status and progress of the program to the Legislature and the Governor. Six (6) months before the end of the three-year period of the program, the department shall submit a written report to the Legislature and the Governor containing a full and complete description and analysis of program operations and results, and a statement of whether the department has plans for expansion of the program at the end of the three-year period, as authorized under subsection (12) of this section.

(12) If the department determines that the program has been demonstrated to be effective in the participating counties and that the program would likely be effective in other areas of the state, the department is authorized to expand the program statewide, expand the program statewide on a phased-in basis, or expand the program to other areas of the state less than statewide at the end of the three-year period, in accordance with the terms of the Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, Public Law 104-193.

SECTION 2. This act shall take effect and be in force from and after July 1, 1997.