Welfare Rolls Fall Far, but Snags Loom Failure to Get 75 Percent of Two-Parent Welfare Families into Work by Oct. 1 Deadline Could Cost States Millions

By Linda Feldmann, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, September 18, 1997 | Go to article overview

Welfare Rolls Fall Far, but Snags Loom Failure to Get 75 Percent of Two-Parent Welfare Families into Work by Oct. 1 Deadline Could Cost States Millions


Linda Feldmann, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


From President Clinton on down, politicians have made much of the dramatic decline in the welfare population. Since April 1994, nearly 4 million people have left the rolls. The country now has the lowest percentage of the population on welfare since 1970, Clinton says.

But when states reach a crucial deadline in two weeks, the picture on welfare reform will look decidedly mixed.

By Oct. 1, most states will have succeeded in moving 25 percent of their welfare populations into work activities. But many will fail to reach another benchmark: getting 75 percent of their two-parent welfare families into some form of work. Congress and the Clinton administration view the requirement on two-parent families as an important signal of how hard states are trying to move welfare recipients into work. After all, Washington officials argue, these should be the easiest cases: With two adults in the home, one is available for child care. And they can split the 35-hour-a-week work requirement between them. If states can't get most of these families into work, some experts wonder, what does this say about states' ability to meet future, stricter deadlines? At the state level, some officials say the two-parent cases - which represent only 7 percent of total welfare families nationwide - aren't necessarily as easy as they sound. But the bottom line is that a state that fails to make the 75 percent goal could lose part of its federal welfare block grant - a penalty that could total in the tens of millions of dollars, depending on the size of the state. States that say they may fall short on the two-parent goal include California, Maryland, Vermont, Alabama, Connecticut, Nevada, and Louisiana. States that report they will make the deadline include New York and Massachusetts. Twenty states - those that implemented welfare reform later than others - have longer to reach the benchmark. "I think the goal for two-parent families is unrealistically high," says Steve Gold, the welfare-to-work programs director for Vermont. "We find that a lot of two-parent families need some significant investment if they're really to obtain and maintain employment over the long haul." Vermont exemplifies the complexities involved in enforcing such a seemingly simple deadline. The state has elected to stick with its own welfare-reform demonstration project, which in some aspects contradicts the federal reform. And so far, Vermont has not heard from the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) how the state's two-parent caseload will be judged. …

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