STOP MAKING SENSE? A GUIDE TO THE STATE WELFARE LAW

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True, the state welfare reform law isn’t as harsh as it might have been. But for tens of thousands of pregnant women, new mothers and disabled recipients, there are tough new workfare rules. And anyone applying for public assistance will have to prove they’ve lived in the state for at least a year–and be screened for drug and alcohol use. What’s more, for those nasty people who get caught cheating on welfare there’s a host of hefty new sanctions.

All of this and more comes to you thanks to the Welfare Reform Act of 1997, signed into law by Governor George Pataki on August 20. The law brings New York State into compliance with last year’s federal welfare overhaul by–among other things–including a modified version of the federal five-year total time limit for benefits. It also makes it very difficult for any welfare recipient to obtain an exemption from workfare.

A new, comprehensive summary of the state law and its many complexities was published last week by the Community Food Resource Center and the Welfare Reform Network. It’s essential for anyone who works with people on public assistance needing to understand the subtle–and not so subtle–regulation of New York’s poor.

Among the new workfare rules is a provision requiring new mothers to return to government work assignments three months after a child is born. Previously, mothers with children under one year were allowed to take a pass on workfare. Pregnant women will also be required to work up until 30 days before the “medically verified” date of their delivery. Advocates say such provisions ignore the critical shortage of day care for infants and small children.

“There is not enough child care for all children whose parents are in workfare. And there’s an incredible shortage of child care for infants,” says Don Friedman, who authored the report. “It’s really going to put pressure on people to take informal day care options. That’s dangerous.”

In addition, the law gives local officials broad discretion to force disabled workers into workfare jobs by creating a category of workers called “disabled, but able to work.” The law does away with college exemptions from workfare–although there have been indications that city welfare commissioner Lilliam Barrios-Paoli will step up efforts to provide workfare jobs to students on their college campuses.

One improvement many advocates sought and won: nearly half of any outside income of parents on welfare will be disregarded; before, it would have been docked from their public assistance check. Families will remain eligible for assistance until their earnings reach the federal poverty level–or until they hit the five-year time limit.

For a copy of the summary, call Don Friedman at (212) 344-0195, or go to www.wnylc.com on the World Wide Web and check out the welfare page.