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A rule with no heart

December 21, 1998

Sometimes the decisions of government bureaucrats have consequences they didn't intend. But as we look at what happened to West Virginia's welfare policy, we have to wonder whether the people who rewrote the rules were thoughtless or heartless.

The rule change, being challenged in federal court, now requires social workers who calculate whether a family is eligible for welfare to count any Supplement Security Income paid to a disabled child as part of the family's income.

Because of the change, the suit claims that some 1,900 families across the state have been declared ineligible for welfare payments, leaving the SSI check (at most $494 a month) as the families' only income.

That's wrong, for two reasons. Federal law requires SSI income to be spent only on the individual who receives it. And whatever the size of the check, caring for a disabled child is a full-time job which parents perform as a cost much lower than any taxpayer-funded institution could.

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Many good things have happened as a result of welfare reform. Individuals who are able to work have been encouraged to find jobs, instead of depending on the government. The government agencies that assist welfare cases have been turned from agencies that merely maintain clients to resources which help people achieve their independence.

But this rule change won't accomplish anything except to make it tougher for families already burdened by a child's disability. Fewer than 10 states use such a formula now; we can't believe any legislator with an ounce of sense believes that the parents of disabled children fall into the category of welfare cheats. In truth, these people have already been cheated of the experience of raising a healthy child. The state doesn't need to cheat them again by denying them a few dollars to live on.

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