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California welfare-to-work recipients could receive six-month extensions beyond a new 24-month time limit for aid if they are making progress in a treatment program, on the verge of finding work or struggle with a learning disability, according to new bill language released today.

The guts of the welfare-to-work compromise between Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic lawmakers is contained in Assembly Bill 1471. The deal struck last week would generally cut off aid and services to CalWORKs recipients if they cannot find employment after 24 months.

The new rules take effect starting in January. Months on aid before January do not count against the new time limit.

Democratic lawmakers insisted on a series of exemptions that would protect one-fifth of welfare recipients who go past that time limit without finding a job. AB 1471 allows counties to grant extensions in six-month blocks to people who meet any of the following criteria:

• Are likely to obtain a job within six months.
• Face a difficult job market with high unemployment.
• Have made "satisfactory progress" in a program such as vocational education or drug treatment that would increase the likelihood of finding a job.
• Needs additional treatment for a learning disability or other diagnosed problem.
• Has filed to receive SSI benefits for disability.
• "Other circumstances as determined" by the Department of Social Services.

The bill caps extensions at 20 percent of a county's caseload that has exhausted the 24-month time limit. Counties and program advocates have until November 2013 to figure out how to calculate that 20 percent.

AB 1471 also requires counties to presume that a CalWORKs recipient qualifies for an extension -- and enables that recipient the right to a hearing if denied for additional time in the program.

"It's not perfect, and we wouldn't design it this way if we were writing it," said Mike Herald, a lobbyist with the Western Center on Law and Poverty. "But it was at least an attempt to address our concerns about folks with special needs who would be harmed."

Herald added that because only a fifth of the people who use up their time can receive an extension, "in our judgment harm is going to occur to some of these families because we picked an arbitrary number out of the air."


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