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Minnesota Program Would Encourage Welfare Mothers To Work With AM-Welfare-Work

July 11, 1989

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Minnesota asked permission from Congress Tuesday for an experimental program to encourage poor people to go to work by allowing them to retain some of their welfare benefits.

″The Minnesota plan would reward work. Working would always be more profitable than not working,″ said John Petraborg, assistant commissioner for the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

Minnesota officials asked a House Agriculture subcommittee Tuesday to approve a waiver from federal regulations necessary to try the program with fewer than 6,000 welfare recipients in rural and urban areas of the state, starting in 1992.

The panel, which oversees the food stamp program, is one of six in the House and Senate that must agree to the change because of the variety of welfare plans it covers.

In addition to encouraging poor people to find jobs, the program also would simplfy government assistance programs, Petraborg said.

The waiver would allow the state to combine benefits from federal welfare programs, including Aid to Families with Dependent Children and food stamps, into a single cash payment that families could use as they chose.

A poor woman with one child could make as much as $6.15 an hour and still retain some of her monthly payment under the Minnesota plan, he said.

Under federal regulations, the woman is discouraged from looking for a job because she would lose her benefits if she made as little as $3.15 an hour, he said.

Seven percent of the families receiving AFDC payments in Minnesota - those who remain on the rolls for seven years or more - account for 40 percent of the cost of the program in that state, he said.

The Minnesota plan is bound to cost more money, but the state legislature has agreed to absorb the extra cost, Petraborg said. The additional cost of the program has not been determined, he said.

Rep. Charles Hatcher, D-Ga., the subcommittee chairman, called the program ″a challenging concept ... ″with potential for real rewards for recipients and society.″

Rep. Bill Emerson, R-Mo., said he liked the idea of ″one-stop shopping″ for welfare recipients provided by combining the benefits into a cash payment.

″I believe that our public assistance programs are so complex and confusing that it is no wonder that participants and administrators alike have difficulty with them,″ he said.

A representative of the Food Research and Action Center, an organization that tried to strengthen federal food programs for the poor, raised concerns that the Minnesota program could force mothers to go to work instead of staying home with small children.

Robert Fersh, executive director of the organization, also said that eliminating food coupons in lieu of cash payments could encourage landlords to raise rents to get the extra money.

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