The Squeeze Is On

Bad news for poor kids: Under new welfare law, state has to meet yet another 'quota' of cuts

"I think that some people they're just forcing [WeCARE] on to see if people could just walk," says Diane Robertson, a woman with internal bleeding. "Because you get aggravated and say to hell with it."

At this point, it's likely the participation rate crisis won't hit the fan until after the new HHS regs are released, and possibly not even until state participation rate numbers start to be reported in October. If New York still lags behind the 50 percent benchmark, the worry is that welfare officials will either start closing cases or stepping up pressure on recipients to toe the work-rules line. One likely scenario is that Governor Pataki would renew his push for full-family sanctions, denying benefits to kids whose parents aren't engaged in work programs—a policy that would, says WRI's Dillonna Lewis, "pretty much wipe out the remaining 6,000 students from CUNY" who are seeking degrees while getting public assistance.

Advocates for the poor acknowledge that the new federal law has put New York officials in a tough spot. But they insist that Pataki and Bloomberg still have options: The federal law allows up to one year of vocational training for welfare recipients, for example, and while it's limited to 30 percent of the total caseload, New York is well below that figure. (The HRA's Hansell will only say that "we assign people to vocational education and training when we think it's the most appropriate activity for them, and we'll continue to do that.")

illustration: Ted McGrath

"The new law sends a terrible set of signals that in the end still leaves the decisions up to states," says Greenberg, who has been advising officials in several states on how to respond to the new welfare rules. "It doesn't force states to cut off assistance, and it doesn't force states to make bad decisions about how they implement."

Janet Moody just wishes that if the government wants her to comply with its rules, it would make it easier to do so. "Not saying work and training isn't good," she says, "but if they would maybe give two notices instead of one, or make sure the address is correct. Or maybe they could answer their phones."

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