Welfare rules not so severe Work requirements could be reduced if states cut recipients; Caseload down about 9%; But law can be obeyed by employing some, taking others off rolls


WASHINGTON -- State officials are discovering that the work requirements of the new welfare law are much less onerous than they first believed.

The work requirements will be substantially reduced for any state that reduces the number of families receiving welfare, compared with the total in the 1995 fiscal year, and that number is already way down in most states. Thus a state can comply with the law by putting some people to work and by simply removing others from the rolls, regardless of whether they find jobs.

In the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, at least 25 percent of the adults on welfare in each state are supposed to be working, the law says. But if, for example, a state reduces its caseload by 10 percent, compared with fiscal 1995, its work target will be reduced by 10 percentage points, so only 15 percent of the adults on welfare will be required to work.

Since the welfare caseload is down an average of 9 percent nationwide from last year and still falling, that means many states will face a far smaller task in meeting the federal requirements. If a welfare recipient moves to a job or simply ceases to receive aid, the state gets the same credit toward the work requirement.

That worries some welfare advocates. Mark Greenberg, a lawyer at the Center for Law and Social Policy, a research and advocacy group, said the "caseload reduction credit" was troubling to him because it rewarded states for reducing the welfare rolls even if they did not put more people to work.

"Under this provision," Greenberg said, "states will be equally rewarded if their caseload goes down because more people are working or simply because the state has has made it more difficult for families who need help to receive it."

The welfare law ends the 60-year-old federal guarantee of cash assistance for the nation's poorest children, sets a five-year limit on payments to any family, and gives states vast new power to run their own welfare and work programs with lump sums of federal money.

The caseload-reduction credit will prove useful to most states. In June, the last month for which federal data are available, the number of families on welfare was less than the monthly average for the 1995 fiscal year in 47 of the 50 states -- all but Alaska, Hawaii and Minnesota.

The declines are striking in Maryland (26 percent), Wisconsin (24 percent), Indiana (21 percent), Oklahoma (18 percent), Louisiana (15 percent) and Michigan (14 percent). For the nation as a whole, the number of families on welfare has declined 14 percent, to 4.4 million, from a peak of 5.1 million in March 1994.

Evelyn Ganzglass, director of employment and social services policy at the National Governors' Association, said: "It's staggering how much change there has been in caseloads. It's incredible."

Officials suggest several reasons for that: a strong economy, aggressive efforts to put people to work, restrictive new state laws and a new political climate that discourages people from seeking or staying on welfare.

The Republicans who devised the caseload-reduction credit acknowledge that they do not know what happens to all the parents and children leaving the welfare rolls.

Democrats say many of these families sink deeper into poverty. Republicans say the adults will find jobs and will ultimately be better off.

Pub Date: 9/23/96

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