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Final Version of Workfare Regulations to Be Released Today

By Jacob M. Schlesinger

The final version of Gov. Edward J. King's statewide workfare program will he announced this afternoon, six months after the controversial plan was first introduced.

Emerging from weeks of debate among legislators and powerful interest groups, the program has changed significantly since its inception and will emphasize job training rather than mandatory employment.

A provision in the original version announced last October requiring aid recipients with school-age children to find jobs drew the sharpest criticism from public interest lobbies and labor organizers.

Massachusetts is one of 26 states implementing welfare changes since the Reagan Administration tightened eligibility requirements for the national Aid to Families with Dependent Children program.

Statehouse officials said this week that the King plan is one of the few to include a work fare provision, and they said they expect it to serve as a model for other states.

The same officials originally intended to implement the workfare program for 40,000 people by early January, but ran into strong opposition from groups such as the Massachusetts Coalition for Basic Human Needs, an organization representing welfare recipients.

Representatives from King's office, several legislators and private sector lobbyists released a "memorandum of agreement" in February, vowing to eliminate mandatory employment provisions from the program. Recipients will now have to be actively looking for work or enrolled in a public training program.

"I am optimistic that the final regulations will reflect last month's compromise," Rep. A. Joseph DeNucci, chairman of the House Human Services Committee and one of the architects of the February agreement, said yesterday.

The Human Needs Coalition initially opposed the workfare plan because recipients could receive less money in wages than they do now from federal welfare.

Officials who worked on the February compromise have asked King to include a minimum-wage guarantee in the final regulations for the workfare plan, but there is no indication yet whether he will comply.

Labor Opposition

Several unions initially opposed workfare as anti-organized labor because it might create "free labor pools" in towns which had to layoff employees as a result of Proposition 2 1/2 tax cuts But the governor has assured labor leaders that the final plan will include provisions preventing this situation, said Peter Wright, head of the state American Federal State County Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Union.

Wright added that AFSCME would give its support to the final plan if it roughly matched the February agreement. But he said that if the Department of Public Welfare adds some provisions unacceptable to the welfare groups, AFSCME may consider opposing workfare, regardless of rules for labor.

If legislators are dissatisfied with King's proposed today, they may try to pass a bill preventing changes in welfare laws without legislative approval, Di Nucci said, Under existing law, the executive's proposals become official after a 21-day public comment period. Approval from the Federal Department of Health and Human Services is usually a formality.

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