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States Must Pay Minimum Wage For Workfare, Administration Rules

Welfare reformers complain it could gut welfare-to-work requirements


WASHINGTON (AllPolitics, May 16) -- States must pay the federal minimum wage to welfare recipients forced into public sector jobs, the Clinton Administration said in a long-awaited ruling.

The new welfare law requires states to move at least 20 percent of people receiving public assistance into jobs -- public or private -- by the end of this year, but is silent on what people should be paid.

"Our lawyers concluded that in the absence of a statement to the contrary from Congress, the Fair Labor Standards Act would apply," domestic policy advisor Bruce Reed told The Associated Press.

Republican and Democratic governors alike are protesting.

"It's an untenable position to put a state in," Delaware's Democratic Gov. Tom Carper told The New York Times. And the National Governors' Association said the requirement would push welfare payments above current levels.

Reed disagreed. "In every state except Mississippi, the combination of welfare and food stamp benefits is already high enough that someone in workfare working 20 hours a week as required by the welfare law would already be receiving the minimum wage or better," he said.

Republican lawmakers on Capitol Hill said the ruling would dramatically cut back the hours welfare recipients would work, and undermine a key component of the new law -- work requirements.

Under heavy pressure from unions to rule as it did, the administration made its decision following a Labor Department assessment that public sector work, from cleaning streets to processing government forms, qualified as work under the Fair Labor Standards Act.

Whether President Bill Clinton would sign off on legislation that would exempt workfare jobs from the minimum wage remains unclear.

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