Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Changes to Vermont's System Mandate Work for Recipients

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Changes to Vermont's System Mandate Work for Recipients

Article excerpt

SINGLE mother Joanne Brooking has been working toward a bachelor's degree in sociology. But supporting herself and her five-year-old son, Kyle, hasn't been easy on her $497-a-month welfare payment.

Besides basic needs, she is worried about her unreliable car, which tends to conk out on country roads. "Living in rural Vermont is a lot different from living in Boston and New York, where there is public transportation to get people around," she says.

Like other welfare recipients, she is just scraping by in tough economic times. But she's worried that money may be even tighter if changes are approved in the state's welfare system, Aid to Families with Needy Children.

The General Assembly, with a push from Gov. Howard Dean (D), is expected to approve time-limited benefits, work incentives, and other welfare-policy changes upon approval of a minimum-wage provision. After much wrangling, passage is likely in January. Meanwhile, a five-year demonstration project will start in July.

Ms. Brooking is concerned about being forced to find work with jobs scarce. "Mandatory work is like makeshift jobs," she says. "It's a Band-Aid solution."

Vermont and several other states are moving toward mandatory work requirements and tinkering with welfare changes, urged on by Bush and Clinton administrations. And many are experimenting with time-limited benefits and "workfare," as advocated by President Clinton in his 1992 presidential campaign.

Under Vermont's proposal, welfare recipients would face new rules that emphasize getting them into jobs. Work incentives, for example, will allow recipients to earn more and keep more assets without losing benefits.

But the plan is also stricter than today's system. Welfare recipients who receive benefits after 30 months must take community-service jobs. Sanctions follow if community work is refused, including limits on spending of welfare payments and the loss of health benefits for adults. …

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