Revolution and Reform

by Todd Avery

"The poverty rate among our nation's children is appallingly high," Maureen Pirog Good states. "And as a result of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, at least one million more children will be placed in poverty." However, Pirog-Good, an associate professor of public and environmental affairs at Indiana University Bloomington and co-director of the Institute for Family and Social Responsibility, hopes the long-term benefits of the act will outweigh its short-term drawbacks.

Better known as welfare reform or the "devolution revolution," the act, Pirog-Good says, "seeks to reduce the federal government's liability in supporting needy children" by transferring this responsibility to the states. The new legislation, which replaces the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program (AFDC) with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families block grant (TANF), contains strict work requirements and time limits for assistance eligibility. Because "making people work costs more than cutting a check," Pirog-Good says, TANF is, in some ways, a more costly alternative to the old welfare system. She is quick to point out, though, that "this new legislation offers new challenges and opportunities for creativity. It will require active nonpartisan cooperation to fashion solutions to a very serious contemporary problem."

Maureen Pirog-Good, Associate Professor of Public and Environmental Affairs and Co-Director, Institute for Family and Social Responsibility , Indiana University Bloomington

Pirog-Good's work is directed precisely toward fashioning solutions to and mending holes in Indiana's increasingly perforated social safety net. She became involved in welfare reform several years ago when advising a master's degree candidate who also worked as a high school guidance counselor in Indianapolis. While Pirog-Good was studying child support enforcement policy and the social ramifications of adolescent fatherhood, she quickly recognized that issues of child support are "tightly linked to public assistance programs." Welfare reform is, of course, a highly controversial political issue. The problem of child support enforcement is, on the other hand, "not controversial at all--liberals and conservatives alike agree that absent parents should be required to help shoulder the costs of raising their offspring," Pirog-Good says. Child-support enforcement policies are routinely tacked onto proposed welfare reform legislation as "sweeteners." The two are linked "legislatively and programmatically," she notes.

Pirog-Good earned her master's in economics at Boston College and her doctorate in public policy analysis at the University of Pennsylvania. She has taught at IU since 1983. She asserts, however, that she is "not an ivory tower academic." Her career bears out this claim. "It's been my objective to retain close links among my research, service, and teaching activities. All of my work is based on this connection," she says. SPEA is conducive to such a holistic approach.

Her interest in welfare reform allows Pirog-Good to apply her intellectual activities directly to matters of public policy. As a researcher, and the sole Hoosier, at Abt Associates, a Maryland-based national think tank, as well as at the Urban Institute in Washington, D.C., she is working on a major analysis and evaluation of Indiana welfare reform. She is also in charge of research into child well-being outcomes of the reform. As a member of the Research Council of the National Child Support Enforcement Association, Pirog-Good is contributing, as she puts it, "to an investigation of how to develop good incentives for the promotion of child support enforcement."

Currently, Pirog-Good is devoting much of her time and effort to the IUB based Institute for Family and Social Responsibility (FASR). Of the institute's purpose, she explains, "Changing views on the delivery of social services has put a greater emphasis on state, local, and private responses to social needs, and the FASR Institute is in the forefront of studying these developments." Welfare reform is an urgent challenge that Indiana must meet with as much social policy expertise as it can muster. "Indiana will benefit from institute expertise," Pirog-Good says.
Pirog-Good and others at the FASR Institute are grappling with difficult social issues and providing an essential service to the state of Indiana. Their justification is rooted in the deeply ethical desire "for everyone to be a productive, self-sufficient, working member of our state, reaching out and living the American dream."