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Welfare Rules Called Limiting for Teenage Parents

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Washington--Proposed federal regulations for the new welfare law include provisions inconsistent with Congressional intent on how states must serve teenage parents, members of the Senate Finance Committee were told last week.

Mark Greenberg, senior staff attorney for the Center for Law and Social Policy, said that while the new law allows flexibility in serving parents under age 20 who receive welfare benefits, the proposed rules would limit that leeway.

In an effort to stem long-term welfare dependency, the law requires teenage parents who have not finished high school to participate in an educational program. (See Education Week, May 17, 1989.)

The law allows states to exempt those under age 18 from mandatory participation in an education or training program by using state-adopted criteria that are consistent with federal regulations, Mr. Greenberg said.

But the proposed rules, he said, would permit such exemptions only if: a teenage parent is beyond the state's compulsory school-attendance age; the state-adopted criteria provide for individualized rather than blanket exemptions; and the state provides for participation in another educational activity.

"The issue here is not whether young parents should be encouraged to be in an educational activity," the lawyer argued. "The issue is what is the best way to encourage and provide that education."

While some states have "expressed interest" in forcing teenage welfare recipients to remain in or return to high school to maintain eligibility, according to Mr. Greenberg, "there is no broad consensus on whether it is a sound educational practice or social policy."

He noted that if schools are unable to provide flexible scheduling, an appropriate curriculum, and support services, a mandated return to school may create an adversarial setting that would have a negative affect on the young parent's attitude toward education. Mr. Greenberg urged that states be given more flexibility in serving this group.

The lawyer also criticized the proposed repeal of a provision in current welfare regulations that prohibits states from denying welfare benefits to children under 18 for failing to maintain satisfactory grades.

Officials in the the Department of Health and Human Services said they suggested repealing the provision because it is inconsistent with Congressional concerns about school attendance.

But Mr. Greenberg said such a move would be "unwise and unlawful" and would penalize students who are making a sincere effort to keep up their grades.

The proposed regulations were published in the April 18 Federal Register. Comments can be filed with the hhs through June 19 by writing to the Assistant Secretary for Family Support, Attention: Mark Ragan, OFA/WRTG, Fifth Floor, 370 L'Enfant Promenade, S.W., Washington, D.C. 20447.--rrw

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