2006-09-08 20:55:03 UTC
By KEVIN FREKING, - Associated Press Writer
Published 3:34 am PDT Friday, September 8, 2006
Welfare officials in Pennsylvania, California, Michigan have their work
cut out for them when new rules take effect next month: find jobs for
tens of thousands of people on welfare or risk losing millions in
Those three states are among about two dozen identified by the federal
government as lagging in efforts to get welfare recipients to work.
The rules require states to place into job training, community services
or other work activities 50 percent of households that get welfare aid
and 90 percent of two-parent households receiving assistance.
"About half the states are in pretty good shape," said Wade Horn, the
Bush administration's point man on welfare overhaul. "About a quarter
of the states that are really going to have to work hard," he said.
Pennsylvania will have to add nearly 23,000 recipients to the work
rolls, which amounts to a 220 percent increase in work participation,
according to federal estimates obtained by The Associated Press.
California has to find work activities for more than 60,000 people- a
100 percent increase in its work participation rate.
Michigan must add nearly 11,500, a 117 percent increase.
Several large states, including Texas, Florida and Georgia, easily will
meet the requirements, according to the federal estimates.
The work requirement were part of broad rules that more strictly
defined what constitutes work and require states to verify that adults
are doing the work activities that states say they are.
On Thursday, five Democrats on the House Ways and Means Committee said
the rules had placed new challenges on the states that would make the
program more expensive and difficult to administer. They are asking for
a congressional hearing.
Some analysts also are concerned that states will increase the use of
penalties as a tool to get to 50 percent work participation, rather
than helping a recipient land a job and keep it. Other states may try
to deter families from coming into the program at all, they say.
"The people who have the most barriers to employment, the most issues
in their life, they tend to be sanctioned more than others," said
Evelyn Ganzglass of the Center for Law and Social Policy. "But they
often have problems that prevent them from complying. These can be
mental health problems, physical disabilities, all kinds of issues that
these families face."
Pennsylvania officials say their state has made significant strides
since March, the last month included in the federal figures. Work
participation is now up to about 32 percent from the under 20 percent
cited by the federal government, they said.
"We're confident we're going to hit the number," said Ted Dallas,
executive deputy secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Public
Dallas said the new regulations have forced Pennsylvania to re-evaluate
its program. He said there has been more one-on-one casework with
welfare recipients and more accountability from contractors. He also
said more recipients have been penalized when they did not comply with
States can kick recipients out of the program if they have not met
certain requirements, such as attending an appointment with a counselor
or attending a job interview. Penalties in Pennsylvania rose from 1,030
in February to 2,327 in July, state officials said. A punished
recipient in Pennsylvania becomes ineligible for benefits, such as cash
Horn stresses that states do not have to be at 50 percent work
participation come Oct. 1, just at that average over the course of the
year. Then, states will have a chance to take corrective action. The
earliest that penalties could begin is 2009.
The penalties could be severe. States face a reduction of their welfare
block grant of up to 5 percent the first year they fail to meet the new
threshold, and 2 percentage points for each additional year. States
would have to replace the lost federal funds with their own money.
Pennsylvania, for example, gets $719 million. If it fails to meet the
work requirement, it could lose as much as about $36 million in federal
funds in 2009.
One important feature of the 50 percent threshold is that states get
extra credit when they reduce the number of welfare recipients. If a
state's caseload drops by 5 percent from 2005 levels, then the work
participation requirement will also drop by 5 percent.
States that have reduced the number of welfare cases over the past year
include Georgia, 22.8 percent, and Texas, 19.2 percent. That means
those two states would only need to have about a third of their welfare
rolls in work activities to meet the new guidelines, Horn said.
While the welfare rolls have dropped nearly 60 percent in the past
decade, momentum has stalled in many states. That's not the case in
Larry Jones, communications director of the Texas Workforce Commission,
said various factors play a role in reducing welfare rolls. The state's
economy is strong, generating about 630,000 jobs in the last three
years. The state also has stricter time limits in place than most
states, with some beneficiaries allowed to collect cash assistance a
maximum of one year before they have to work.
But, mostly, Jones said, the state has been successful placing
recipients into the work force.
He said that about three-quarters of participants get jobs and, of that
group, 71 percent have those same jobs six months later. Jones said the
jobs pay more than $7.00 an hour, plus recipients can continue to get
food stamps, state-subsidized child care, Medicaid and other benefits.
"We very strongly emphasize work and a quick attachment to the work
force," Jones said. "Through work, one builds the skills needed to stay
employed and build a career."