Many States Facing: More welfare-to-work or lose federal funding

By Kevin Freking
Associated Press

WASHINGTON– The welfare rolls aren’t dropping as fast as they used to, and that could pose a big money problem for states from coast to coast after a new federal law takes effect next month.

The states’ task: find jobs for tens of thousands of people on welfare or risk losing millions in federal money. More than two dozen states have work to do including Pennsylvania, California and Michigan.

The law requires states to place into job training, community service or other work activities 50 percent of their households that get welfare aid — and 90 percent of their households that receive assistance.

“About half the states are in pretty good shape,” said Wade Horn, assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services. “About a quarter of the states are really going to have to work hard.”

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 other large states, including Texas, Florida and Georgia, will meet the requirements easily, according to federal estimates.

The requirements are part of broad rules that more strictly defines what constitutes work and require states to verify that adults are doing the activities the states say they are.

This week, 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 are also concerned that states will penalize beneficiaries as a way to get to 50 percent work participation, rather than help recipients land and keep jobs.

“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 instead of the 15 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 Welfare.

Dallas said the new regulations have forced Pennsylvania to re-evaluate its program. He said there has been more one-on-one counseling and more accountability from contractors. He also said more recipients have been penalized when they did not comply with state requirements.

States can kick recipients out of the program if they have not met certain requirements, such as attending appointments with counselors or going to job interviews. Sanctions in Pennsylvania rose from 1,030 in February to 2,327 in July, state officials said.