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New welfare work rules

Hillary Wicai Jun 28, 2006

TESS VIGELAND: Today the Bush Administration issued new regulations as to what exactly constitutes “work.” People on welfare are supposed to work. Or at least half of those on welfare in each state are supposed to be involved in work activities. Initially the government left it to the states to define work. Not anymore. And the new rules could cost the states money. From the Marketplace’s Work and Family Desk, Hillary Wicai reports.

HILLARY WICAI: Some states count caring for a disabled family member as work for those receiving welfare. Others count substance abuse treatment. The administration says the new rules will be more consistent and are based on common sense definitions of work. But critics say the new narrow definitions will make it harder for those in work training programs for example, and that’s not common sense.

SHARON PARROTT: They have homework in vocational training programs.

Sharon Parrot is with the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

PARROTT: In order for that time to be counted, she must do it in a supervised study hall. We are talking about mothers that have to juggle the training program demands with child rearing.

Others say the new rules are also harder for the states themselves. And Sheri Steisel with the National Conference of State Legislators says that means more cost to states without additional funding.

SHERI STEISEL: For paperwork burden, accounting, verification and tracking of welfare recipients. This is going to be a Herculean task for the states and really it’s miles away from the notion of state flexibility when welfare reform was created in ’96.

But Congress asked for more explicit definitions of work and this is the Department of Health and Human Service’s answer. Wade Horn is the assistant secretary who oversees welfare officially called the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program or TANF.

WADE HORN: So the job of the federal government is not to make the job of the TANF agency easy but to make sure they’re running good programs for the benefit of the clients.

States can lose their funding for not complying.

In Washington, I’m Hillary Wicai for Marketplace.

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