12 UNC institutions to examine how N.C. counties handle welfare reform

March 12, 2000

CHAPEL HILL -- Faculty members at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill will work with colleagues at 11 other UNC campuses over the next year to determine how N.C. counties have carried out welfare reform.

Their unique study is aimed at understanding how counties have responded to the national and state challenges of welfare reform. Most previous research on the subject has evaluated the changes' impact on recipients and on poverty reduction.

The new statewide project will describe how all 100 N.C. counties have organized to implement the state's Work First Program, according to study directors. Winston-Salem's Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation is supporting the effort with a new $50,000 grant to UNC-CH's Odum Institute for Research in Social Science.

"The whole area of assistance to families has undergone a major reordering since federal legislation in 1996, and the North Carolina General Assembly adopted its own welfare reform in 1997," said Dr. Deil S. Wright, alumni distinguished professor of political science at UNC-CH. "We are attempting to track county responses to our state's actions, which offered counties much more autonomy, discretion and policy options about welfare."

Wright and Dr. Philip Cooke, professor of social work, began designing and working on the study two years ago with funds supplied by UNC-CH. Team members will conduct and analyze interviews with such key people as county managers, county board members and social service directors, not tracking welfare recipients. They will gather information and officials' views from all counties broadly and examine 25 in detail.

Other study team members are Drs. Daniel Barbee of UNC-Pembroke, Thomas Barth of UNC-Wilmington, Ruth DeHoog of UNC-Greensboro, Terry Gibson of Western Carolina University, Dennis Grady of Appalachian State University, Elizabeth Ann O'Sullivan of N.C. State University, Gary Rassel of UNC-Charlotte, William Sabo of UNC-Asheville, Carmine Scavo of East Carolina University, Derick Smith of Fayetteville State University and Rebecca Winders of N.C. Central University.

The study could be important nationally because North Carolina is one of 10 states that rely on counties to deliver social service programs, Wright said. In fact, North Carolina might have the most decentralized system in the country for delivering social services.

"The federal government is trying to get states to take on more responsibilities, and North Carolina, which can be seen as a kind of laboratory, is trying the same thing with its counties," Cooke said. "This is part of an important larger effort to redefine the focus of governmental responsibilities away from the model it began adopting in the 1930s. Our work should enable us to tease out which counties are responding in creative ways that might be useful to other counties here or in other states."

The goal will be a clearer picture of the evolving relationships between the state and its counties, he said.

Participating faculty hope to attract further funding so they will be able to track changes in the effects of welfare reform over time, Wright said. What the team learns might be relevant to delivery of other services such as those surrounding mental health.
Note: For details, call project director Susan Webb at (919) 968-9054 or swebb@email.unc.edu . Wright can be reached at (919) 929-2847 (h) or 962-0414 (w), Cooke at 962-6531.

Contact: David Williamson, 962-8596.

University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
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