JUMPSTART OUR BUSINESS STRENGTH (JOBS) ACT-CONTINUED
Mr. SANTORUM. Mr. President, I rise to commend the Senate for the passage yesterday by unanimous consent an amendment to extend for 2 years the Work Opportunity and Welfare to Work tax credits, and to make certain improvements to these programs that will make them even more effective in helping Americans transition from welfare to work. These credits clearly belong in a bill whose name is JOBS; I can think of few programs that have created jobs and provided basic workplace skills to a segment of the population that is badly in need of these resources with the efficiency and low cost of WOTC and W-t-W. I can also think of few jobs programs that have as positive an impact as these have on scarce state welfare resources. I am also pleased that Senator BAYH joined me as a cosponsor of this bipartisan amendment. I would also like to thank Chairman GRASSLEY and Senator BAUCUS for their support of this important initiative as part of a larger package of extenders.
WOTC and W-t-W are also key elements of welfare reform. Employers in the retail, health care, hotel, financial services, and food industries have incorporated this program into their hiring practices and through these programs, more than 2,700,000 previously dependent persons have found work.
A recent report issued by the New York State Department of Labor bears this out in economic terms. Comparing the cost of WOTC credits taken by New York State employers during the period 1996-2003-for a total of $192.59 million-with savings achieved through closed welfare cases and reductions in vocational rehabilitation programs and jail spending-for a total of $199,89 million-the State of New York concluded that WOTC provided net benefits to the taxpayers even without taking into account the additional economic benefits resulting from the addition of new wages to the GDP or reductions in other social spending such as Medicaid.
In that regard, the New York State analysis concluded that the roughly $90 million in wages paid to WOTC workers since 1996 generated roughly $225 million in increased economic activity. Perhaps even more importantly, the study found that roughly 58 percent of the TANF recipients who entered private sector employment with the assistance of WOTC stayed off welfare.
I mention the New York State study because it is the first of its kind; however, I am certain that similar conclusions would be reached in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania or any of the other 48 States and the District of Columbia. These programs work and do so at a net savings to taxpayers. In fact, over a 7-year period there were more than 111,000 certifications for both WOTC and W-t-W in Pennsylvania alone enabling many to leave welfare and find private sector work. The legislation is supported by hundreds of employers throughout Pennsylvania and around the country.
WOTC and W-t-W have received high praise as well from the Federal Government. A 2001 GAO study concluded that employers have significantly changed their hiring practices because of WOTC by providing job mentors, longer training periods, and significant recruiting outreach efforts.
Mr. President, WOTC and W-t-W are not traditional government jobs programs. Instead they are precisely the type of program that we should champion in a time when we need to be fiscally responsible. These are efficient and low cost public-private partnerships that have as their goal to provide a means by which individuals can transition from welfare to a lifetime of work and dignity.
Under present law, WOTC provides a 40-percent tax credit on the first $6,000 of wages for those working at least 200 hours, or a partial credit of 25 percent for those working 120-399 hours. W-t-W provides a 35-percent tax credit on the first $10,000 of wages for those working 400 hours in the first year. In the second year, the W-t-W credit is 50 percent of the first $10,000 of wages earned. WOTC and W-t-W are key elements of welfare reform. A growing number of employers use these programs in the retail, health care, hotel, financial services, food, and other industries. These programs have helped over 2,200,000 previously dependent persons to find jobs.
Eligibility for WOTC is currently limited to: (1) Recipients of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families in 9 of the 18 months ending on the hiring date; (2) individuals receiving Supplemental Security Income, SSI, benefits; (3) disabled individuals with vocational rehabilitation referrals; (4) veterans on food stamps; (5) individuals aged 18-24 in households receiving food stamp benefits; (6) qualified summer youth employees; (7) low-income ex-felons; and (8) individuals ages 18-24 living in empowerment zones or renewal communities. Eligibility for W-t-W is limited to individuals receiving welfare benefits for 18 consecutive months ending on the hiring date. More than 80 percent of WOTC and W-t-W hires were previously dependent on public assistance programs. These credits are both a hiring incentive, offsetting some of the higher costs of recruiting, hiring, and retaining public assistant recipients and other low-skilled individuals, and a retention incentive, providing a higher reward for those who stay longer on the job.
Despite the considerable success of WOTC and W-t-W, many vulnerable individuals still need a boost in finding employment. This is particularly true during periods of high unemployment. There are several legislative changes that would strengthen these programs, expand employment opportunities for needy individuals, and make the programs more attractive to employers. These changes are reflected in legislation which I introduced along with Senator BAUCUS, S. 1180, and these changes are as follows:
The administration's budget proposes to simplify these important employment incentives by combining them into one credit and making the rules for computing the combined credits simpler. The credits would be combined by creating a new welfare-to-work target group under WOTC. The minimum employment periods and credit rates for the first year of employment under the present work opportunity tax credit would apply to W-t-W employees. The maximum amount of eligible wages would continue to be $10,000 for W-t-W employees and $6,000 for other target groups-$3,000 for summer youth. In addition, the second year 50-percent credit under W-t-W would continue to be available for W-t-W employees under the modified WOTC.
Under current law, only those ex-felons whose annual family income is 70 percent or less than the Bureau of Labor Statistics lower living standard during the 6 months preceding the hiring date are eligible for WOTC. The administration's budget also proposes to eliminate the family income attribution rule.
Current WOTC eligibility rules heavily favor the hiring of women because single mothers are much more likely to be on welfare or food stamps. Women constitute about 80 percent of those hired under the WOTC program, but men from welfare households face the same or even greater barriers to finding work. Increasing the age ceiling in the "food stamp category" would greatly improve the job prospects for many absentee fathers and other "at risk" males. This change would be completely consistent with program objectives because many food stamp households include adults who are not working, and more than 90 percent of those on food stamps live below the poverty line.
I am very pleased that President Bush proposed a 2-year extension for these programs in his budget, as well as some useful modifications and improvements. The administration along with all of us in Congress are eager to continue our efforts to create jobs in America. The amendment would provide for a 1-year extension of current law to facilitate a transition period and then in the second year implement these important changes.
I would prefer a permanent extension which would provide these important programs with greater stability, thereby encouraging more employers to participate, make investment in expanding outreach to identify potential workers from the targeted groups, and avoid the wasteful disruption of termination and renewal. A permanent extension would also encourage the state job services to invest the resources needed to make the certification process more efficient and employer-friendly. Yet the cost is a significant consideration in the current budget environment even though this is an excellent use of tax incentives which ultimately saves government resources while expanding opportunity for Americans.
Finally, I commend the Senate for acting on this amendment and encourage support for cloture tomorrow and quick completion of this important underlying jobs bill. WOTC and W-t-W expired at the end of last year, and even though the extension we propose is retroactive, these programs will not be fully effective until they become law. The individuals who enter the workforce under these programs, and our States, that benefit greatly from the reduction in welfare that these programs generate, deserve quick action by the Senate on this bill. I urge all of my colleagues to support its passage.