Welfare Benefits

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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Ways to cut bureaucratic red tape and improve the efficiency of federal welfare programs will be studied by a committee headed by a University of Tennessee vice president.

Sammie Lynn Puett, Tennessee’s human services commissioner in 1980-85, was given the assignment by Agriculture Secretary Edward Madigan.

The 11-member committee, established by Congress, is comprised primarily of representatives of municipal and state public assistance agencies.

Madigan said it will examine federal policies and procedures relating to all of the government’s public assistance programs, including food stamps, cash assistance, medical care and housing.

The committee’s report to Congress is due by July 1993.

”We need to avoid duplication of effort, which can cost taxpayers money,” Madigan said. ”We also need to be sure it’s not unnecessarily complicated to use these programs, either for the people who receive the benefits or for the people who administer them.”

Puett said welfare programs are administered by different federal departments, each of which makes its own set of regulations and eligibility requirements. A single state agency executes the various federal programs.

For example, Puett said, the Tennessee Department of Human Services determines eligibility for the food stamp program of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Aid to Families with Dependent Children and Medicaid programs of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the energy support program of the Department of Energy, and the housing assistance program of the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

”You’ve got multiple agencies involved at the federal level, but only one set of clients,” Puett said. ”Already identified are 54 areas in which the policies and regulations differ in family assistance programs. No wonder there’s frustration among clients and staff workers who have to determine eligibility.” For example, she said, an automobile is valued one way for AFDC and another way for food stamps.

”I hope our committee can differentiate between sound and unsound criteria for differences in determining eligibility,” she said.

”We want to make it possible for the (state) workers to determine eligibility more efficiently so the clients can get their benefits more quickly and with less hassle.”

Robert Grunow, Tennessee’s commissioner of human services, said states have very few options in administering the federal programs.

”Due to the multiplicity of federal regulations varying between the programs, we’re being required to literally waste a significant number of our resources on complicated and multiple eligibility procedures,” Grunow said.

Congress wants the committee to identify those policies which, because of their differences, make it more difficult for people to qualify for more than one assistance and to apply for and receive benefits.

”Each of these programs at the federal level is being developed by different agencies. As a result, we have no unified procedures,” Grunow said. ”We’re wasting a lot of our resources in the administrative process rather than (using them) in the actual delivery of benefits.”

Puett said the committee will hold its first meeting this month in Washington, D.C.

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