Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

As Welfare Exits, States Try to Make 'Workfare' Work

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

As Welfare Exits, States Try to Make 'Workfare' Work

Article excerpt

Sweeping changes in how the US deals with its poorest residents start in earnest this week, as the historic welfare reform bill takes effect.

Welfare as we know it is over. Welfare as it will be is not yet defined, as state officials across the country struggle to deal with the new social policy powers and responsibilities that they've inherited from Washington.

Proponents of the reform say the poor will now take control of their lives, freed from an initiative-sapping dependence on federal handouts. Critics worry that thousands will be pushed onto the streets and steam grates of the nation. The legislation's true effect will not likely be known for years - even decades - as its ramifications ripple through the US social service system. But one thing seems clear: After years of rhetoric about requiring work in exchange for welfare support, America will now give "workfare" a serious try. The old social contract, which guaranteed aid for poor children and caregivers, ended on Oct. 1, with a new fiscal year. "A workfare requirement of this order is enough, in and of itself, to start driving people off the welfare rolls," judges Lawrence Mead, a welfare expert and professor of politics at New York University. The first official transfer of welfare power took place Monday. In what was described as a routine procedural move, the US Department of Health and Human Services approved the welfare plans of Michigan and Wisconsin, the first two states to submit outlines under the terms of legislation passed by the GOP-led Congress and signed by President Clinton in August. Nine other states - Ohio, Florida, Vermont, Massachusetts, Maryland, Oregon, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Maine - have also sent Uncle Sam their welfare-reform guidelines. The plan submission deadline isn't until next July, but quick action would benefit most states. That's because the grants welfare administrators will receive under the new law are based on old welfare caseloads, many of which have declined in recent years. Michigan, for instance, figures its windfall at about $150 million. Extra cash or not, many states aren't yet ready to begin taking control of their welfare destiny. …

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