- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2001

NEW YORK Welfare caseloads here may rise by the spring because of the economic slowdown and the September 11 terror attacks, federal officials were told yesterday at one of their "listening tour" visits.
"With the attack on New York and large numbers of jobs dislocated," many workers in food service, hospitality and travel industries are being laid off, New York State Assemblywoman Deborah J. Glick said at a gathering of about 80 state officials, caseworkers, trade group representatives and former welfare recipients in Manhattan's Marriott Marquis Hotel.
These employees, which include former welfare recipients, should be able to get unemployment checks or disaster relief temporarily, she said.
But "unless we are very vigorous in putting programs in place," the city could see an increase in the welfare caseload between six and nine months from now.
"We're certainly quite concerned about caseloads increasing and it's something we're trying to monitor quite closely," said Wade F. Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), who led yesterday's session.
He cautioned that national caseload changes "are mixed thus far," with some states reporting rising caseloads while others say their rolls are dropping or staying the same.
Mr. Horn said that HHS Secretary Tommy G. Thompson hasn't been able to attend many of the listening sessions because of his involvement in September 11 issues. However, the secretary a former governor who led Wisconsin's dramatic welfare reforms is being carefully briefed on the sessions, Mr. Horn said.
Yesterday's event revealed broad support for the 1996 welfare reform law, which is up for reauthorization next year.
There was unanimous agreement that Congress should keep welfare funding at $16.5 billion a year, even though caseloads have been cut in half, because of future needs and ongoing struggles to get hard-core welfare recipients into jobs.
The officials also urged Congress to resist "earmarking" welfare funds, even for worthy causes such as family formation or marriage promotion. Pinpointing welfare funds to specific purposes could "dismantle state flexibility," said James W. Smith Jr., New Jersey's acting commissioner of human services.
But there was less consensus about whether the law should broaden its goals to include reducing poverty or improving child well-being, allow time spent in educational classes or in drug rehabilitation to count as work, or stop the five-year federal time limit on cash benefits.
Most of these proposals came from Democrat state officials. Republican state officials, like their Republican peers in Congress who wrote the law, offered arguments against them.
Former welfare recipients Robert Melendez and Elvera Honore were highlights of the session.
Mr. Melendez was married with a child when he lost his job a few years ago.
The family went on welfare, but the stress caused him and his wife to consider separating. Their welfare caseworker listened to their plight and said, "It would be better if you worked together" to get a job, he said. "So we did."
Mr. Melendez eventually landed a good position in a Manhattan company, and now has a happy home. "It was her suggestion that sparked that," he said.
Miss Honore, who now works in Philadelphia, said her stints on welfare were like the physics law that says "a body at rest tends to stay at rest" until acted upon by another force. Before welfare reform, "I was at rest," she said, but the 1996 law "acted on me and I'm still in motion."

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