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Welfare recipients forced into public jobs must get minimum wage

May 16, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Welfare recipients forced into public service jobs will have to be paid the federal minimum wage of $4.75 an hour, the Clinton administration says.

``This is our interpretation″ of the Fair Labor Standards Act, said President Clinton’s domestic policy adviser, Bruce Reed, in an interview Thursday with The Associated Press. ``The Labor Department will issue guidance to the states along these lines.″

Reed said previous welfare laws had addressed how much beneficiaries in such workfare programs should be paid. However, Congress did not address the issue in last year’s law, he said.

``Our lawyers concluded that in the absence of a statement to contrary from Congress, the Fair Labor Standards Act would apply,″ Reed said.

Over vehement objections from governors, the Labor Department in February recommended that the federal minimum wage should apply to welfare recipients who, under last year’s law, will be increasingly pressured to work in exchange for their benefits if they cannot find jobs on their own.

``What the Labor Department is saying is work is work,″ an administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Friday. ``It doesn’t matter if it’s work for welfare.″

However, the administration’s interpretation of the law allows some exceptions for workers in training programs, the official said.

The decision came after Labor Department officials applied a seven-part test to determine what qualifies as work and determined that public sector jobs _ ranging form work in government offices to cleaning trash off the street _ qualify, the official said.

Under last year’s welfare reform law, states are required to have 20 percent of their welfare recipients in jobs of at least 20 hours a week by the end of this year. Otherwise, they face penalties. The percentage of welfare recipients required to work rises year, until it reaches 50 percent in 2002.

The National Governors’ Association expressed concerns that in some states, paying minimum wage for 20 hours of work would increase welfare payments above current levels.

However, Reed said the minimum wage requirement will have no immediate impact on workfare programs in most states.

``In every state except Mississippi, the combination of welfare and food stamp benefits is already high enough that someone in workfare working 20 hours a week as required by the welfare law would already be receiving the minimum wage or better,″ he said.

Workfare is only one of many ways states can meet the work requirements under the welfare law.

``Our first preference has always been for states to do everything they can to meet the work rates by placing recipients in private jobs where the minimum wage rules already apply,″ Reed said.

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