Tuesday, July 03, 2001

Welfare runs out for many

Time limits kick in; thousands of families are affected

By Laura Meckler
The Associated Press

        CLEVELAND — Terell and Teron are sprawled under white sheets, sleeping soundly on the living room floor. It's 11 a.m., but the sunlight is blocked by yellowing newspapers that cover the windows.

        Their mother, barely awake, explains how she lost her job, how her phone and utilities were cut off, how she drinks too much, how she might not make it to her next birthday and how her children sleep on the floor because they don't have beds.

        In March, Angela Vaugh ran out of time on welfare.

        Under time limits, one of the central features of the 1996 welfare overhaul, even the poorest families must leave welfare after a set period of time, whether or not they have a job or a plan to support their families.

        Federal law sets the maximum period for receiving benefits at five years, but 21 states including Ohio have shorter time limits. As of this spring, about 125,000 families had run out of time and lost their checks.

        That's a fraction of the total number who have left the rolls. The strong economy helped many find jobs before their benefits expired. Others were cut off because they failed to comply with new rules. And, with welfare rolls down, most states are making exceptions to keep benefits flowing to those who have hit time limits.

        Beginning this fall, the story line is set to change, as the feder al limits hit in the remaining states. Federal law caps the number of people who may be excused from the five-year limit, and most of the upcoming states have stricter extension policies.

        “A lot of states are going to say "that's it' and not think about hardship,” said Jack Tweedie, a welfare expert at the National Conference of State Legislators. “A significant number of families are going to be affected.”

        Time limits have yet to make an impact in some states:

        • In Oregon and Nebraska, two-year time limits are on the books, but almost no one has been affected.

        • Fewer than 10 Delaware families have reached the time limit and been cut off.

        • Barely half of the welfare families in Indiana are subject to time limits. Among those excused : full-time students, anyone over 60, people who live too far from available jobs, those caring for sick family members, pregnant women and mothers with babies under age 1.

        • In Arkansas, Texas, Utah and Tennessee, extensions are given to about half the people who have spent the maximum amount of time on welfare.


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