Incentive Program for Teenage Parents on Welfare Evaluated

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Ohio counties have made "great progress" in implementing an unusual program that offers financial incentives to keep teenage parents who are on welfare in school, a new study contends.

The study, to be released this week by the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, examines the first 18 months of the Learning, Earning, and Parenting, or in LEAP, program. The statewide initiative gives monthly bonuses to teenage parents who attend school regularly and reduces their welfare grants if they do not.

Launched by the Ohio Department of Human Services in 1989, LEAP also offers child-care and transportation assistance and case-management services to help remove obstacles to attendance.

Although Ohio is not the first state to link school attendance to welfare benefits--Wisconsin pioneered the concept with its controversial Learnfare program--the M.D.R.C. report describes LEAP as the only statewide effort of its kind aimed at teenage parents and the first "to offer rewards as well as penalties."

Under the Ohio program, teenage parents with four or fewer total absences a month and no more than two unexcused absences get $62 added to their monthly grant, while those with more than two unexcused absences have their grants reduced by $62.

Students have several chances to prove that they were absent for a good cause, and may be temporarily exempted from the program under some circumstances.

The study, involving 12 counties serving two-thirds of the students eligible for LEAP, showed that "this kind of approach to working with teen parents on welfare is feasible and can be run pretty smoothly on a large scale," said David Long, a senior research associate for the M.D .R.C. and the director of the study.

The biggest challenges for charities so far, said Mr. Long, have been identifying teenage parents living with parents or other relatives registered as the primary welfare recipient, and "working out a relationship with the school building"to monitor attendance data on a timely basis.

"Reporting procedures are still not operating smoothly in some school districts, particularly in large cities," the report indicates.

Mr. Long said LEAP is likely to be closely watched nationwide as "an innovative and potentially very valuable tool" for bolstering the self-sufficiency of teenage mothers, who are "the most likely to remain on welfare a long time."

"Education is a critically important element"to reverse that, he added.

Copies of the report, "LEAP: Implementing a Welfare Initiative to Improve School Attendance Among Teenage Parents," are available for $12 from the Manpower Development Research Corporation, 3 Park Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016. --D.C.

Vol. 11, Issue 04, Page 19

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