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Posted at 11:26 AM ET, 12/21/2010

Council modifies welfare proposal

The D.C. Council is stepping away from its position to gradually remove all long-term welfare recipients from the rolls, instead embracing a proposal to punish only those families who do not take advantage of job training and placement programs.

Heading into today's final vote on updates to the 2010 budget, D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray (D) had put forward a plan phase payments for participants of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program who have been on the rolls for five years or longer.

As initially approved by the council in a vote two weeks ago, the District would reduce payments to those recipients by 20 percent starting in February 2011. A year later, those payments would drop by 40 percent, and by 60 percent the year after that. Within five years, all payments to recipients who have been on the rolls five years or longer would have been eliminated.

But Gray, under pressure from advocates and some council members who argued that the proposal was mean-spirited, has reworked his proposal, according to council sources.

Under the revised proposal, long-term recipients would still lose 20 percent of their payment if they stay on the rolls five years or longer. There would not, however, be a gradual phase-out beyond that.

Instead, the District would adopt what are known as "fully family sanctions" for those recipients who fail to abide by job training and placement requirements. If a recipient is found to be in violation of such requirements, they would be removed from the rolls until they comply.

Council member Tommy Wells (D-Ward 6), chairman of the Human Services Committee, called the proposed change "a far more finely tuned plan than" where the council "started."

'When someone is cut off, they will know what they need to get on TANF as they move to self-sufficiency," Wells said after being told of the changes. "It's a plan that looks better for everyone. ... It allows for the (Department of Human Services) to do a full assessment of every family that includes a plan for what they need to do to get to self-sufficiency. "

Wells said he still has concerns about the proposed 20 percent reduction in payments to long-term recipients, but noted that the city is banking on $5 million in savings from the move.

Among the 17,000 families in the city's welfare program, about 40 percent -- or 6,800 -- have been getting benefits for more than five years, receiving an average of $370 a month.

Despite the changes to the initial proposal, council officials caution that Gray and members could revisit the issue of a gradual phase-out next year.

By  |  11:26 AM ET, 12/21/2010

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