City Council member H.R. Crawford (D-Ward 7) introduced a bill last night that would require all employable public assistance recipients in the District to register for work or become ineligible for welfare benefits.
Also, the council adopted emergency legislation to prevent the closing of four nonprofit clinics in the city by covering the clinics' volunteer workers under a District government insurance plan. The clinics, which together serve approximately 15,000 patients, were going to have to close because a New Jersey malpractice liability insurer had refused to renew their policies.
The emergency legislation extends malpractice insurance to the clinics for the next nine months, giving them time to find a private insurer willing to cover them.
Crawford first announced his welfare reform proposal during a news conference. He said the goal is to encourage people to exchange welfare payments for paychecks once they have acquired job skills.
"We cannot continue to write off a large segment of our population and permit them to languish in a cycle of welfare dependency," Crawford said at the news conference.
"It is time for us to show a willingness to invest in human resources. We can ill afford to waste another generation."
Nearly 23,000 D.C. families, a total of about 56,000 people, receive $43 million a year in public assistance. Ninety-eight percent of those families are headed by single women.
Under Crawford's proposal, aid recipients would be required to register for job training or employment to be provided through work programs, which would include working for the District government and nonprofit agencies.
Persons who could not find jobs elsewhere would be assigned to participate in community work projects long enough to earn the amount they receive in public assistance.
Those exempt from the registration and work requirements in Crawford's proposal would include people under age 16 who are enrolled in school, disabled persons, pregnant women whose babies are expected to be born within three months after they have been declared eligible for work, and persons caring for a disabled family member.
Any employable person who was not exempt but refused to accept a job or report to work would be ineligible for public assistance for 60 days for the first violation, and for a second violation they would be ineligible for 90 days or until compliance.
Under federal regulations, heads of households who receive Aid to Families with Dependent Children and do not have children under age 6 are required to register for employment under a work incentive program.
Of the 10,000 District welfare recipients who have registered under the program, 1,893 were employed last year at an average wage of $4.57 per hour, according to District government officials.
So-called workfare programs have become increasingly popular throughout the country, and at least 38 states have developed some type of work program for public assistance recipients. Based on the experiences of California and Pennsylvania, Crawford estimated that a workfare program in the District would cost $362 per person annually.
In response to questions about who would care for the young children of women required to work under his program, Crawford said the District and federal governments would provide funds for day care services.
Former City Council member Rev. Jerry A. Moore Jr. and several other local ministers said during Crawford's news conference that they supported the thrust of the bill.
Council members Betty Ann Kane (D-At Large), Frank Smith (D-Ward 1) and Carol Schwartz (R-At Large) sponsored the bill. Some members, however, expressed concerns about the proposal.
"I personally lean more in the direction of job training rather than make-work," said council Chairman David A. Clarke.
Council member Charlene Drew Jarvis (D-Ward 4) said she preferred a program that would allow people to work voluntarily, and she suggested, for example, allowing single mothers to work in evening child care programs.
The facilities affected by the emergency clinic legislation are the Washington Free Clinic, which was to have closed on Saturday, plus the Whitman-Walker Clinic, the Clinica del Pueblo and the Zacchaeus Clinic, all of which would have been forced to close between March and December.
The legislation, introduced by Smith, created a free clinic assistance program under which any clinic could receive insurance coverage from the District provided that it could prove that its medical liability insurance would be terminated within five days and that it had made a resonable effort to obtain coverage.
All the clinics are nonprofit and give treatments and medicines at no cost to patients who cannot afford the services.
In other action, the City Council gave final approval to legislation to protect nursing home residents from physical and emotional abuse and unnecessary transfers. The measure will let the city place poorly run homes in receivership.
The council confirmed the appointments of the Rev. Raymond B. Kemp, a former D.C. school board member, and Nira Hardon Long, a senior partner with the law firm of Long, Peterson, Zimmerman and Horton, to the board of trustees of the University of the District of Columbia.