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Administration Backs Wis. Plan To Limit Welfare to 2 Years

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WASHINGTON--The Clinton Administration last week gave Wisconsin the green light to launch a controversial welfare-reform experiment that will cut off cash benefits to recipients after two years.

President Clinton has endorsed the idea of a two-year limit on benefits as part of a broad overhaul of the welfare system. Although he has yet to release a detailed reform plan, Administration officials have hinted that the time limit would be coupled with social-support services and possibly public-service jobs for recipients who cannot find employment after two years.

While other states also have sought federal waivers for programs setting new conditions on welfare benefits, Wisconsin's approach is considered the most stringent.

"Our approval of Wisconsin's demonstration shows that the Clinton Administration is serious about providing states with the flexibility needed to test innovations,'' said Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services Walter D. Broadnax.

Wisconsin's "Work Not Welfare'' pilot, which will be limited to two counties and start in January 1995, will require welfare applicants to sign contracts pledging to work for benefits. Within a month, they must begin employment, education, or training.

When benefits are cut off after two years, those who are working can still receive transitional child care for a year. But they will be ineligible to go back on welfare for three years.

State officials say the plan will provide services such as child care, health care, education, training, transportation, and job placement to help people move off welfare. If a parent cannot find a job, families with children will still be able to receive food stamps, medical assistance, and some housing aid.

"Work Not Welfare will emphasize personal responsibility, requiring more of recipients while providing additional assistance to them,'' Gov. Tommy G. Thompson of Wisconsin said.

But critics say the plan does not offer enough of a safety net.

It "pulls the rug out from under families who play by the rules, who fully cooperate with program requirements, who in fact have to work for their welfare benefits for most of time they receive welfare, and who after two years through no fault of own cannot find jobs,'' said Susan Steinmetz, a senior policy associate for the Center on Budget Policy and Priorities.

Georgia Plan Approved

The Administration last week also approved a pilot program in Georgia that will reduce welfare benefits when able-bodied adults turn down jobs and deny additional benefits to mothers who have additional children while on welfare.

"Georgia's demonstration will test a number of strategies for reducing long-term welfare dependency,'' Secretary of Health and Human Services Donna E. Shalala said.

Under a law passed by the Georgia legislature this year, the state beginning in January will deny benefits to able-bodied people ages 18 to 60 who have no children under 14 and who "willfully'' refuse work or who quit jobs without cause.

In addition, a "family cap'' will prevent incremental payments to families that have been on welfare at least two years and have additional children.

The intent is "to make welfare recipients face the same sort of decisions about having children as other families,'' according to Gov. Zell Miller of Georgia.

New Jersey some time ago got a federal waiver for a similar proposal.

But Ms. Steinmetz contended that such proposals "pander to mythology and hurt children.''

"There is nothing in the research to suggest welfare benefits provide incentives for women to have children,'' she said.

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