HARRISBURG - New job search requirements for individuals helped by a public welfare transition program are part of the state budget package enacted in late June.

The Corbett administration describes the new policy as a "work first" approach while critics say it removes necessary supports that help individuals on welfare, particularly mothers, successfully transition to jobs.

Hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians receive job training and hiring assistance, transportation, education and cash assistance through transition programs. They have been operated by the state Department of Public Welfare since the mid-1990s when both Washington and Harrisburg instituted workfare requirements for welfare recipients and limited welfare benefits to no more than five years during one's lifetime. One key program is Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which provides temporary cash benefits to families in transition.

TANF families receive average monthly cash stipends of $145 per family member as well as allowances for child care and transportation, according to an analysis released this week by the House Democratic Appropriations Committee. About 200,000 individuals received TANF benefits as of last May. The new budget provides $60 million in state funds and $322 million in federal funds for the TANF cash grants.

The new welfare code requires individuals who apply for TANF benefits to also apply for at least three jobs each week while the application is pending. Previously, an individual has been required to start a job search once a TANF application was approved and the support services for child care and rides were in place.

"Work experience is best learned from actual work itself, and these reforms will help recipients achieve successful, independent lives free from public assistance," said DPW Secretary Gary Alexander when the 2012-13 budget was enacted.

The new job search requirement is punitive and undercuts the intent of workfare, said the Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center, a Harrisburg think tank that has been critical of state spending cuts. Low-income mothers will face new hurdles as they look for work.

"The new rules would upset this bargain, denying supports that research demonstrates helps women secure jobs and keep them," said the center in a statement.

The TANF changes have been overshadowed by the end on Aug. 1 of the General Assistance cash grant program for nearly 70,000 Pennsylvanians. This monthly cash stipend of roughly $200 had gone to adults with permanent or temporary disabilities, victims of domestic violence, children under age 18 cared for by an adult who is not a relative and individuals in drug and alcohol treatment programs.

Contact the writer: rswift@timesshamrock.com