Nation pays attention to U experts on welfare reform

by Jacqueline Couillard

When a pair of University faculty members speak, people listen. People like Uncle Sam, the Minnesota Legislature and Cornell University. All three institutions — and others across the country — will be watching a satellite broadcast in which University professors Bonnie Braun and Jean Bauer hope to spread their insights about welfare reform.
Bonnie Braun and Jean Bauer, both tenured faculty members at the University, want policy makers, welfare recipients, students and public service workers to consider viewing welfare reform as moving people “From Welfare to Well-being.”
“From Welfare to Well-being,” which will air at 10 a.m. Thursday, will be taped at KTCA studios and was originally intended only for broadcast in Minnesota and to the Minnesota Extension Service at the University. But Braun and Bauer’s message appears to have grabbed national attention.
“Based on the national response that we’ve had, Minnesota’s Dr. Braun and Dr. Bauer are clearly recognized as national leaders in interpreting welfare legislation and its impact on local government,” said Larry Coyle, the distance education coordinator for the Minnesota Extension Service.
Cornell University in Ithaca, N.Y., the General Accounting Office in Washington, D.C., as well as extension service offices across Minnesota have made plans to watch the program, said Coyle.
Federal legislation passed in August is aimed at reducing the number of people on welfare. States must pass reformed welfare laws by July 1997 in order to qualify for funds from the new block-grant federal welfare system.
Committee meetings at the state Legislature were canceled for today to allow lawmakers to attend a conference about welfare reform that Braun will also attend.
Braun and Bauer said they see their role in welfare reform as knowledge brokers, not as agenda-setters.
“Certainly, what we’re trying to do here is not a partisan approach to policymaking,” said Braun.
As knowledge brokers, Braun and Bauer are helping the University fulfill its role as a land-grant institution.
“The mandate of land-grant universities is to help people make informed decisions about problems and issues in their lives,” said Braun, the College of Human Ecology’s associate dean for outreach.
She also mentioned that Morrill Hall, the University’s administrative building, is named after the federal legislation that allowed the University to fulfill that mandate, the Morrill Act of 1862.
“We have been leading this on behalf of the land-grant institutions nationwide,” said Braun.
Bauer, a professor of family social science, emphasized the importance to the state of the University’s contribution to the debate. “Depending on what comes out of the Minnesota Legislature, it could provide opportunities for decisions to be made in counties and our towns,” Bauer said.
Bauer said health care, child care and transportation will all be important issues for counties and towns when they try to get families off welfare. These fields, she said, might create more jobs in local and county government.
“Logically, we know that when people make a change (from public assistance to work), it’s not just the going to work we need to look at,” said Bauer, a family economist in the College of Human Ecology.
Bauer said that transportation will be especially important because new jobs tend to be created in the suburbs, not in the urban centers where many welfare recipients live.
Improvements to systems such as public transportation might be beneficial to all people, not just those on public assistance, Bauer said.
“It’s hard for some students to come to the University using public transportation,” Bauer said. These students would be secondary beneficiaries, she said, from any improvements to local mass transit.
But Braun and Bauer emphasized that they can’t tell communities what kind of welfare reform is best.
“Intuitively, you know that the solutions in Roseau, Minn., are going to be different from the solutions in Rochester, but we all live in Minnesota with the laws and policies in Minnesota,” Bauer said.
Students, faculty and community members can watch the broadcast at the Earle Brown Continuing Education Center in St. Paul, or at any television with a satellite downlink, if they know the downlink code.
Braun is scheduled to give at least five national presentations in 1997 on welfare reform.
“We’re going to help the people that are watching the broadcast to ask the kinds of questions that need to be asked so that they can be better informed about the issues involved, the alternatives,” said Bauer.