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Off Welfare, Yes. But No Job

More states are cutting off benefits - even before the time limit - to recipients who don't follow the new rules.

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Last September, a month after Beatrice Steljes had to quit her job as a gas station cashier due to illness, she received a form letter from Florida's state welfare authority.

The letter informed Ms. Steljes, a single mother, that she was no longer eligible for cash assistance because she "did not meet work requirements" and would lose her $241 monthly benefits in two weeks.

Today, Steljes is homeless, unemployed, and still fighting what she and legal advocates say was a flawed decision to drop her from the welfare rolls. She has retained some benefits pending a hearing.

Across the country, state and local officials are hailing the success of welfare-to-work programs in sharply reducing the numbers of people on public assistance. Yet tens of thousands of Americans such as Steljes are being cut from the rolls not because they found jobs, but because of tough new state sanctions adopted nationwide since the passage of the 1996 federal welfare reform act.

Nationally, from October 1996 to June 1997, 38 percent of the recipients who left welfare did so because of state sanctions for noncompliance, according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).

"What is going on is a lot more sanction policy - trying to reform people's behavior by withholding [all or] part of the grant," says Wendell Primus, director of

income security at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. "In some cases that is helping, but in many cases it is hurting."

The sanctions offer an early, mixed picture on the consequences of welfare reform. Imposed for noncompliance with welfare rules - ranging from missing a training session to failing to show up for an interview - the punitive measures are cutting off benefits long before they are due to expire under time limits.

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