The U.S. House of Representatives approved a welfare-reform bill last Thursday which would require that states ensure that 70 percent of welfare recipients must be working or engaged in job-preparation activities. Moreover, all welfare recipients would have to participate in at least 40 hours of government-supervised activities by 2007. Failure to achieve this standard would result in financial penalties for states in the form reduced federal aid.

The bill contains numerous misguided provisions – increased funding for programs promoting abstinence and marriage, for example – that undermine the project of helping people escape the welfare cycle. But the bill’s work requirements are its most detrimental.

The bill’s stringent measures severely curtail the amount of time welfare recipients can spend in education. With limited access to educational opportunities and resources, most welfare recipients will be hard-pressed to improve their standard of living beyond being perpetually stuck either on the welfare rolls or in low-paying jobs with few opportunities for advancement.

Although the bill includes a modest increase in childcare spending, the realities of the pressures the new law will likely exert on many poor families demands more. The additional time sacrifice required of welfare workers will inevitably undermine many parents’ abilities to care for and raise their children. Regardless of how much money is allocated for publicly-assisted childcare, more needs to be done to ensure that parents have time to spend with their children.

If passed by the Senate, the new welfare reform bill will place a greater demand on the state to provide jobs for the unemployed. States must do more and do better when it comes to providing work for state residents. But in states like Michigan, where governments face tremendous budget deficits, finding jobs – much less full-time jobs – for everybody who wants one is becoming increasingly impossible. Under the House bill, if states could not find ways in which to repair this situation their welfare recipients stand to lose even more of their benefits.

With the economy in such a lengthy slump, the concerns of the poor and unemployed take on a particularly acute significance and must be addressed in the most thorough ways possible. Forcing recipients to spend more time in dead-end jobs away from their families and educational opportunities is anathema to this.

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