With newly-elected Gov. Cecil Underwood moving deliberately (some would say slowly) to take the reins of state government, the agenda for West Virginia's upcoming legislative session appears light, with one exception. Making the state conform to federal welfare reform laws may be the challenge of the decade.
Under the federal law, after Jan. 1 West Virginia citizens are limited to five years' worth of benefits in the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program. Beginning this year, 25 percent of those currently receiving aid must participate in some sort of job-related activity.
So what's the problem? Well, in many parts of the state, the jobs just aren't there. The relative affluence of the Eastern Panhandle leads many to forget that the state's jobless rate - a seasonably adjusted 7.2 percent - is third highest in the nation after Alaska and Washington, D.C.
If the private sector can't provide the jobs, then government may have to, at taxpayers' expense. Not participating in the program is not an option, because if the state fails to meet federal targets, it will have to pay for the program using only state funds.