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Welfare Reform Becomes More Urgent in Many States

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UNDER budget pressure, half the states in the country are now experimenting with ways to change a burgeoning ``welfare culture.'' In general, the experiments are aimed at moving those on welfare from ``stop and stay'' to ``up and out.''

The efforts are driven by a staggering $210 billion spent annually on welfare by both the states and the federal government. In the past five years, more than 3 million recipients have been added to welfare rolls, Donna Shalala, secretary of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), noted last week before Congress.

A total of 25 states, including 10 designated during the Bush and Reagan administrations, now have demonstration projects designed to cut welfare benefits, tighten and restrict eligibility, and demand that recipients look for jobs. Many states have introduced other innovative, and sometimes controversial, measures to monitor or change recipient behavior and to train or educate.

Fifteen of the states have moved urgently toward their own welfare reforms in the past 18 months without waiting for Congress. As a former governor, President Clinton believes states know best how to shape and implement federally funded state programs. This kind of encouragement from Washington has increased under Mr. Clinton.

Last week, a California appeals court reversed a 1992 decision to lower welfare benefits stemming from a federal waiver granted to California during the Bush administration. The court said the state had not taken into consideration the resulting hardships on families. The ruling could influence future actions by other states in seeking waivers.

But much of what states are doing to reverse the bureaucratic and social nightmare that has become the welfare system has already found its way into the Clinton proposal.

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