Welfare guidlines eased for students


Published: Saturday, January 26, 2008 at 5:20 p.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 26, 2008 at 5:20 p.m.

WASHINGTON - Welfare recipients who go to college can use up to a year of classwork to meet the program's work requirements and no longer will need to have homework supervised for some of that time count as well.

The unsupervised homework provision, which also applies to vocational school and other educational activities, represents a change from rules put into place in 2006 for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program. A copy of the final rule was obtained by The Associated Press. It will be published in the Federal Register this coming week.

Governors had sought the changes. They said the requirement of supervised homework would increase state costs. The Bush administration had wanted as much supervision as possible, but eventually acknowledged that most students are not monitored as they do their homework.

"Since we're trying to imitate what real life is like, we thought we were asking a little too much there," said Sidonie Squier, director of the Office of Family Assistance, part of the Health and Human Services Department.

Adults getting cash aid generally are required to work a minimum number of hours each week. The 2006 rule more strictly defined what constitutes work. The new rule incorporates the feedback since then.

The earlier rule did not count getting a bachelor's degree as a work activity. The new rule will allow recipients to count one year of college as a work activity.

"Long-term success will depend upon people getting better jobs, better skills, better wages," said Liz Schott, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning think tank.

The rules did not incorporate the governors' request for more leeway in setting the work requirements for people with disabilities, Schott said. Some participants with disabilities simply cannot meet the minimum 20 or 30 hours per week that is required, but states should still get credit for helping them, the governors told the administration.

Half of the single-parent families participating in a state's TANF program must meet the work requirements or the state could lose some federal money.

"We recognize that many individuals with disabilities are capable of participating in productive work activities and encourage states to explore these capabilities, rather than focusing on their limitations," the final rule says.

The administration said it plans to expand its efforts to give states more technical assistance in helping them find full employment for disabled welfare recipients.

Squier rejected the notion that states could have more of an incentive to drop the disabled from the TANF rolls if their participation makes it harder for states to avoid financial penalties.

"States really have a nasty little tendency to shove folks with a disability to the side because they're harder to work with," Squier said. "When you move them aside, that's a not-so-subtle form of discrimination."

But Schott said that giving states more leeway in serving the disabled would increase their financial incentive to do so.

One of the biggest changes the administration made to the rules will make it easier for participants to engage in job searches or job training without running into the time limits set for those job categories. Overall, Schott said the administration made several "small but not insignificant changes," allowing states to better help families in the program.

About 2 million families per month get cash assistance, down from 5 million families in the mid-1990s.

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