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Federal welfare legislation is set to end yet again this Wednesday, having already weathered five extensions since it expired in 2002. This time, however, a controversial proposal is muddying the waters around reauthorization. As with previous extensions, the bill, backed by Rep. Wally Herger (R-CA), would extend funding at current levels. But it marks the first time an extension would significantly change the welfare law, potentially pushing recipients out of education and into jobs. Currently, the number of recipients who must participate in work activities is based on how much a state’s caseload has fallen since 1995. The more people leave welfare, the fewer have to be in work activities—enabling states to pursue a mix of other activities, including adult education, vocational training and college without incurring federal penalties. Barring another precipitous drop in caseloads, the new proposal would decrease the credits available to states, limiting their flexibility. At press time, Herger was still the bill’s sole sponsor, and a simple extension of funding seemed more likely, thanks it part to welfare advocates, who have lobbied against it. [3/29/04]

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