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Barriers to Ending Welfare Dependence Reported

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The early results of a program that offers education and other services to young mothers on welfare signal the difficulties that may lie ahead in implementing President Clinton's proposal to "end welfare as we know it.''

The Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, a nonprofit New York City-based group that studies welfare programs, last month released a study involving young mothers who enrolled in a national welfare demonstration project between 1989 and 1991.

The project, New Chance, operates in 16 sites in 10 states. It aims to stem welfare dependency among a segment of the population especially vulnerable to long stays on public assistance: women who become mothers when they are teenagers and are high school dropouts. It provides such services as education, job training, family planning, and parent education.

The study involved about 2,300 women--New Chance participants and a control group. After 18 months, 37 percent of the participants had earned General Educational Development certificates, compared with 21 percent of the control group.

But in most respects the results were disappointing. After 18 months, 65 percent of the participants were neither employed nor in education and training, and 82 percent were still on welfare.

The report also documents high rates of repeat pregnancies among participants--57 percent became pregnant during the 18 months--and few differences between participants and control-group members in reading skills, drug use, and health status.

The study notes that poor attendance and early withdrawal from the program muted its impact. It says mothers were thwarted by such barriers as housing problems, dysfunctional families, and dangerous neighborhoods.

"The report is a strong reminder that this is a high-cost and high-risk population, and we have yet to identify strategies of proven effectiveness,'' said Judith Gueron, the research group's president.

Drug Study Disputed

A more complete picture should emerge when the group completes a 42-month evaluation. But the report sounds a "cautionary note'' to welfare policymakers.

Its message may spell difficulties for the Clinton Administration, which last month offered a welfare plan that would target new sanctions and resources at welfare mothers born since 1972. (See Education Week, June 22, 1994.)

The report could also raise red flags in the debate over conservative proposals to stop public assistance for parents under 21.

"The public is rightly concerned about long-term welfare receipt,'' said Robert C. Granger, the project director for New Chance. "But these early results point to the long road to self-sufficiency for many of these families.''

Information on the report, "New Chance: Interim Findings on a Comprehensive Program for Disadvantaged Young Mothers and Their Children,'' is available from the Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, 3 Park Ave., New York, N.Y. 10016.

Another report released last month found that drug and alcohol abuse impedes many women on welfare from becoming self-sufficient and could be a serious obstacle to the Clinton welfare plan without more funds for treatment.

The report by the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University says one-fourth of the women on welfare are addicted to or abuse drugs and alcohol, including at least 37 percent of those between 18 and 24.

A statement from the U.S. Health and Human Services Department called the study "seriously flawed,'' however, arguing that the group's definition of "abuser'' was too broad.

The department estimated that 4.5 perent of welfare recipients have abuse problems "sufficiently debilitating'' to preclude education and training. It said that Mr. Clinton's plan would give states flexibility to require treatment for those recipients.

Copies of the report, "Substance Abuse and Women on Welfare,'' are available for $5 each from the Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse, Columbia University, 152 West 57th St., New York, N.Y. 10019.

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