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Welfare rolls decline even as economy falls

February 2, 2009
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WASHINGTON - Despite rising unemployment and the beginning of the worst economic crisis in decades, 18 states cut their welfare rolls through October of last year, and nationally the number of people receiving cash assistance remained at or near the lowest levels in more than 40 years.

The trends, based on an analysis of new state data, raise questions about how well a revamped welfare system with great state discretion is responding to growing hardships.

Michigan cut its welfare rolls 13 percent, although it was one of two states in which the October unemployment rate topped 9 percent. Rhode Island, the other, had the nation's largest welfare decline, 17 percent.

Of the 12 states where joblessness grew most rapidly, eight reduced or kept constant the number of people receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the main welfare program for families with children. Nationally, for the 12 months ending in October, the rolls inched up a fraction of 1 percent.

The deepening recession offers a fresh challenge to the program, which was passed by a Republican Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1996.

The program ended a 60-year-old entitlement to cash aid, replacing it with time limits and work requirements.

NEW YORK TIMES

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