Monday, December 30, 2002


Republicans want to tighten welfare laws



A story released today by the Gannett News Service reports that about 2 million single mothers across the country would have to spend more time working to be eligible for public assistance under legislation Congress is expected to approve early next year.

The GOP proposal would require all welfare recipients, 90 percent of whom are single mothers, to work 40 hours a week, up from 30 hours now.

Under the Republican welfare plans first proposed by President Bush, state welfare officials also will be required to find jobs for a larger percentage of adults on their welfare rolls or face a 10 percent reduction in federal welfare dollars.

"We firmly believe in transitioning families to work," said Denise Cross, director of Missouriís Division of Family Services. "If work hours are increased, we need additional dollars for child care and other costs such as transportation."

The 1996 welfare overhaul law expires this year. Bushís plan to increase welfare recipientsí work week easily passed the House in May as part of legislation to reauthorize the 1996 law for five years.

But the plan died in the Senate because lawmakers there could not agree on how much education and training should count toward satisfying minimum work requirements or on how much to help welfare recipients pay for child care.

Lawmakers ultimately settled for extending the 1996 law only until Jan. 11.

Now that Republicans control the Senate as well as the House, GOP lawmakers are optimistic Bushís work-friendly welfare proposal quickly will become law.

The proposal would require 24 hours of work at a job plus another 16 hours of education or vocational training.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., said it was unrealistic to expect poor, rural states with high unemployment rates to meet the higher work participation standards.

"Itís got to reflect reality," Lincoln said. "States canít put people in jobs if they donít exist."

The 1996 welfare overhaul law cut welfare rolls by more than 50 percent. Of those still on welfare, about 68 percent are not working.

Many of those out-of-work welfare recipients have mental problems or health problems, lack a high school education, are caring for an infant or disabled child or do not speak English, said Sheila Zedlewski, a researcher for the Urban Institute and author of a Dec. 9 study on the proposed 40-hour work requirement.

In addition, state officials said that with a weak economy and budget shortfalls, states cannot afford to pay for the additional child care costs that would be necessary if welfare recipients must spend more time away from home to satisfy new work requirements.

"This is a loser for the Republicans," said Elaine Ryan, deputy executive director of the American Public Human Services Association, which is made up of state welfare officials.

"They canít do this without increasing the budget for child care."




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