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FEATURE All TIED Up In Washington BY MICHAEL KING “In my state, we take people at their word ” That was the Governor of Texas putting Donna Shalala on notice that he is powerfully annoyed at the continuing delay over the state,;’ request for a federal waiver for its welfare reform program. Governor Bush wrote the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services on April .3 reminding Shalala that she had “promised” an answer to the waiver request by the end of March. As this issue of the Observer went to press \(April 15, there was still no approval from Washingtonand it seems increasingly likely that whatever answer Bush eventually gets in DC, he will run into additional obstacles in Austin. t issue is the Texas Integrated Eligibility System welfare eligibility program which the Governor insists will “save taxpayers’ money and improve services for welfare recipients.” Not everyone is convinced. Some legislators, public interest groups such as the Center for Public Policy Priorities, and unions \(led by the Texas State design and implementation of TIES \(Observer, “Virtual Welfare,” than the computer upgrade authorized by the 1995 Legislature, that it threatens wholesale privatization of what should rightly be public business, and that it can only produce the savings its supporters promise by slashing programs and firing state employees. The public argument over TIES has at least temporarily moved from Austin to the White House. According to several sources, one reason the Texas waiver decision has been so long in coming is that President Clinton and his staff have become deeply involved in the process that would usually be the province of the departments of Health and Human Services and Agriculture \(which supervises the cision will set a welfare precedent for the whole countryand that if it allows Texas to radically privatize social services, it will be hard-pressed to deny other states permission to do likewise. Health and Human Services spokesman Michael Kharfen said that because of the complexity and importance of the Texas program, the administration had been involved “from day one.” Kharfen says the federal agencies have been in regular contact with the Governor’s office and other Texas officials concerning TIES, and that he has “just about exhausted the synonyms for ‘soon” in anticipating the forthcoming decision. /n addition to Governor Bush, other Texas politicians have begun to take public positions on the controversy. Senator Phil Gramm recently wrote to White House Chief of Staff Erskine Bowles, echoing the Governor’s impatience and urging approval of TIES “without delay.” Gramm denounced reported national union lobbying of the White House, and asked that Bowles reject attempts “to inject politics into this policy decision.” But not everyone is eager to see the White House approve 11ES. Houston Congressman Gene Green has written Secretary Shalala and Governor Bush, objecting to the TIES provisions that would privatize eligibility determination for social services such as Medicaid, Temporary Aid to Needy Families, and Food Stamp assistance. In a detailed letter to Bush dated March 17, Green wrote, “I strongly disagree with the efforts to contract out [eligibility determination],” saying such a move would jeopardize accountability for government funds and make stockholder profit a priority over both service and savings. The Governor answered that he appreciated Green’s concerns, but “respectfully disagreed” with his conclusions. The unions, locally and in Washington, readily acknowledge their determination to delay or derail the federal approval of TIES. TSEU president Linda Herrera described TIES as a threat to social services as well as the jobs of union members, and vowed that the union would continue to fight. \(TSEU has launched a statewide advertising campaign against TIES, and members were planning to D.C., the Communications Workers of America \(TSEU’s national John Sweeney himself, have lobbied the federal agencies and the White House. Texas Republican Party Chairman Tom Pauken told the Houston Chronicle that the unions were simply supporting the “welfare state,” and Texas Health and Human Services Commissioner Mike McKinneyresponsible for drafting the TIES proposalaccused the unions of “seeing boogeys in all the bushes.” CWA spokeswoman Debbie Goldman defended the unions against Republican charges of politicizing the welfare issue, saying that Gramm and the others are “scapegoating the unions because they can’t respond to the substance of the issues [the unions] have raised.” Goldman argued that the track record of private companies in social services contracting \(“in Florida, Connecticut, and in record to light, the unions were making certain that the Clinton administration could not defend privatization as a cure-all for social service programs. The unions have been supported in their lobbying effort by several public interest organizations which focus on welfare programs. Henry Freedman of the Welfare Law Center wrote Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman, urging him to ‘reject the Texas privatization initiativeFreedman argued that it would 6 THE TEXAS OBSERVER APRIL 25, 1997