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Proposed Welfare Rules Called Too Rigid in Comments

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Washington--Several education groups and state agencies have weighed in on the proposed rules governing the welfare-reform law, with many targeting for comment the law's requirements for participation and for child-care provision.

The Department of Health and Human Services published the regulations in April, with the deadline for comments in mid-June. Final regulations are to be published in mid-October.

Passed last year by the Congress, the law mandates that states establish a Job Opportunities and Basic Skills program providing education and training to welfare recipients.

States are required to have a jobs program in place no later than October 1990, but many are initiating such programs this summer. Programs are to be statewide by 1992.

In their comments, several organizations, including the National Governors' Association and the state education departments of Alaska, Illinois, and Maryland, objected to h.h.s.'s stipulation that a jobs participant be involved in 20 hours of educational activities a week in order to be counted.

Those who commented called the standard too rigid and said it did not allow programs to be tailored to the individual needs of recipients.

Because the law targets those who have multiple special needs, such as teenage parents, many of the comments urged greater flexibility as an essential for designing effective programs.

Participation Rules Rigid

"Imposing a mandatory 20-hour-per-week program on teen parents would limit school-district discretion in structuring educational programs, resulting in students dropping out who would stay in school with a less restrictive program," the response from the National Center for Research in Vocational Education said. The center based its comments on research being conducted there on vocational programs for teen parents.

The Council of Chief Stateel15lSchool Officers said that the law's designation of teen parents as a top priority means that a crucial concern must be how soon after a child's birth a parent under the age of 18 has to return to school or to participation in alternative educational activities.

"We are concerned that, read literally, the regulations may allow that the day after a child is born, a parent is subject to sanctions if she does not return to school," the c.c.s.s.o. letter said.

The chiefs' group suggested that a state agency not be allowed to require school attendance or other educational activities in the three-month period following the birth of a child.

Several provisions on child care drew comments from educators. Among the concerns raised were that the proposed rules would reduce the rate of federal reimburse4ment for states, limit child care for voluntary participants, limit transitional care, and encourage informal child-care arrangements.

The law requires that states provide child care for jobs participants.

Several higher-education institutions and organizations objected to language included in the department's discussion of the regulations that discourages states from using jobs funds for postsecondary academic purposes.

While the proposed rules allow states the option of including postsecondary education as a component of its jobs program, the discussion of the regulations said such expenditures would receive extraordinary scrutiny by h.h.s.

Among the hundreds of letters received by the department, nearly 100 were from high-school students from several schools around the country who had been asked to write letters on the new welfare law as a class assignment.

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