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Welfare Reform In Minnesota Reduces Poverty

By Barbara Vobejda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 28 1997; Page A14

While many states are scrambling to push welfare recipients into jobs, Minnesota is distinguishing itself with a different approach: focusing not just on work but on getting people out of poverty. A study released today indicates that the tactic works, even if it is more costly.

Welfare experts have known for some time that states can move welfare recipients into jobs simply by threatening to cut off their benefits if they refuse. But in many cases those families are no better off financially, trading in their status as welfare poor for that of working poor.

Minnesota, in a program tested in seven counties and more recently expanded statewide, required recipients to work but also continued to pay welfare benefits after they found jobs, at a much higher rate than in other states. Using that combined approach, Minnesota was able to draw far more people into work and reduce poverty, the study showed.

The Manpower Demonstration Research Corporation, a welfare research group, found that the program increased employment 39 percent among urban single parents who were long-term welfare recipients, compared with those not participating in the experiment. At the same time, poverty fell by 16 percent. But the cost of the program was 8 percent higher, the study showed.

Concern about state spending led Minnesota to cut back on benefits when the program went statewide. But welfare families will continue to receive benefits to supplement their wages until their incomes reach 20 percent above the poverty line. Only a handful of states offer benefits at income levels that high.

"What is unusual is a very self-conscious focus [in Minnesota] that welfare reform should be about making a family better off," said Judith Gueron, who heads the research group conducting the study.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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