The welfare-revision plan being framed by the Carter administration will make state legislatures the main battleground for those advocating higher or lower payments for needy families.
Figures made available yesterday by officials of the Health, Education and Welfare Department show the proposed basic federal payment of $3,780 a year for a family of four is lower than the total federal and state benefits a similar family currently receives in 38 states and the District of Columbia.
In only 12 states - Arizona, Missouri and 10 in the South - would the proposed basic federal grant exceed current total payments under the federal state program of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) and the cash value of federal food stamps.
For the 39 other jurisdictions the question of whether typical welfare families would be better or worse off under the Carter revision would depend on a decision by state governments whether to supplement the basic federal payment.
Both administration and state officials said they believed most states would put their own money into welfare payments to improve the benefit levels - they are putting money into the welfare program now - but some private organizations expressed concern at leaving the benefit-level question to the states.
"If this is a federal program," said one labor official, "why should the burden of decision be put on the states?"
Administration officials deny that there is any burden-shifting to the states. They point out that the suggested $3,780 basic federal grant is higher than the current federal contribution to AFDC and food stamp programs in all states but Hawaii, Alaska and Vermont.
They say they believe that this higher federal base payment, plus the suggested 75 per cent federal sharing of state supplements up to $4,200 a year, and a 25 per cent share beyond that to the poverty level, will serve as a "substantial incentive" for state supplementation.
But those same officials concede that if the final plan is to satisfy President Carter's expressed desire that there be no higher initial federal costs and at the same time meet state demands for relief from the burden of welfare, some welfare beneficiaries will have to have their present payments reduced.
Officials said they are unable to estimate what that number would be, but computer studies are under way at HEW to identify the kinds of individuals and families that are likely to suffer cutbacks.
The welfare revision planners have been pressed by organized labor and other groups to include a "hold-harmless" provision that would guarantee any current welfare recipient against loss of benefits.
But that proposal has been rejected so far, largely because it is estimated that it might add another $2.4 billion to the estimated $25 billion bill for the new welfare program.
Officials said yesterday that this question - along with others - would go to Carter for a decision next week, as part of the "options package" HEW is expected to deliver to the White House by Monday. Carter has promised to send his welfare revision plan to Congress before Aug. 8.
The officials said one option would permit payments at the suggested levels, without an increase in current federal welfare expenditures, while others would be more generous and entail higher costs.
They implied, however, that if the "no-cost" option were adopted by payments would be offset by earnings of welfare family members. Officials said there are very difficult technical problems in setting a rate for a reducing benefits that did not serve as a disincentive to work, once total earnings and benefits reached the $8,000 to $9,000 level.