WEST ST. PAUL -- Gov. Tim Pawlenty and Human Services Commissioner Kevin Goodno on Thursday outlined a plan they said would bring "aggressive reforms" to the state's welfare programs.
Pawlenty said the policy changes emphasize "work first" and the idea of personal responsibility.
"In general, welfare reform is working, and this is the next generation," Pawlenty said.
The plan is modeled on Wisconsin's welfare reforms. Its signature change would steer new welfare applicants into a four-month job-search program where they would meet with job counselors and develop an "intensive employment plan" instead of receiving cash assistance. They would also receive services such as child care and medical care.
In Dakota County, where Pawlenty announced the change, a pilot program has kept seven out of 10 families from ultimately enrolling in welfare programs.
Pawlenty said his plan would cost about the same as the current welfare system because while the upfront costs might be higher, savings would be reaped in the long term.
"This is not about cutting the program," Pawlenty said. "I see it as an improvement to the system."
Among the changes, the proposal would:
* Permit adults receiving welfare to attend school only if they're working at least 25 hours per week.
* Require all welfare recipients to have an employment plan. Currently, 12 percent can be exempt.
* Provide harsher penalties for not complying with rules. People who don't follow the rules could lose all their benefits. Currently, they can only lose 30 percent.
* Seek a federal waiver to limit the purchase of junk food with food assistance.
The junk food change -- Pawlenty and Goodno said they haven't decided what would qualify, other than chips -- would make Minnesota the first in the nation to restrict what food recipients could purchase beyond limits already set by the federal government.
Goodno said it was spurred, in part, because of the number of complaints he heard about food stamp recipients purchasing junk food in supermarket lines.
He also said it was an effort to help lead people to make healthier choices.
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