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Background: Welfare Reform In Pennsylvania
Joel Weisberg, April 1, 1997 --Under new welfare legislation signed by the President on August 22, 1996, block grants to states will replace welfare entitlements. Dramatic changes will be seen in many areas.
    Cash Assistance: The 61-year-old Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) has been replaced by the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant program. Under this program, a family is limited to 60 months of assistance in a lifetime. After any adult in a family has received 60 months of help, the entire family is excluded. The state may choose to exempt 20% of its caseload from the lifetime limit. Except for the exemption, the 60 month limit applies to any program funded under TANF, including counseling, parenting classes, or emergency assistance.
    Work Requirement: In order to continue to be eligible for assistance after receiving aid for 24 months, even if not consecutive, a recipient must be doing some kind of work. Work is broadly defined to include subsidized or unsubsidized work in the public or private sector; work experience on public projects; on-the-job training; community service; providing child care for someone in a community service program; 6 weeks of job search or job readiness training; and vocational education for up to 12 months.
    The state must also meet minimum work requirements. In 1998, 30% of the caseload must be doing some work activity for at least 20 hours per week, and 75% of two-parent families must be at work for at least 35 hours a week.
    Food Stamps: The totally federally funded food stamp program will be cut by more than $27 billion over the next six years. Hardest hit by these reductions will be the elderly, who will lose about 25% of their benefits, and the working poor who will lose about 20 percent.
    The two largest groups rendered ineligible for food stamps are current and future legal immigrants and able-bodied persons age 18-50 who do not have minor children in their care.
    Those between 18 and 50 will be subject to stringent work requirements. They will be eligible for benefits for only three months in each 36-month period unless they are working or in a job program 20 hours per week. Unfortunately, Congress has provided very little funding for workfare slots. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that in an average month, food stamps will be denied to one million unemployed poor who would take a workfare slot if one were available to them. States may request waivers from the work requirements for certain areas.
    Impact on Children: The Urban Institute has estimated that the welfare bill will put about 1.1 million more children into poverty. Children will be affected because of major cuts in child nutrition programs, changes in eligibility for Supplemental Security Income (SSI), and insufficient funding for child care programs.
Joel Weisberg is Executive Director, Pennsylvania Jewish Coalition, and PAD Board member.