JUNEAU (AP) -- A bill updating Alaska's welfare laws passed the House on Tuesday.
The measure would let the state put more money into subsidizing jobs for welfare recipients.
It also changes a cap on the number of people who can keep getting welfare after their five-year time limit has run out.
And it allows for harsher action when clients fail to follow a plan for moving off welfare.
Rep. Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, said putting more money into subsidized jobs could make a significant difference in how welfare is delivered.
''It reorients it to putting those people's feet on the path that leads to a job,'' Dyson said.
Already, the state can use all or part of a client's welfare check to help pay their salary if an employer would not hire them otherwise. The bill would let the state add to that subsidy by also using the amount a client would have received in food stamp benefits.
In such cases, the client would receive their benefits through a paycheck rather than a welfare check and food stamps.
Another part of the bill deals with a provision in current law that prevents people from receiving welfare benefits for more than five years. The law lets the department make exceptions to that rule for up to 20 percent of its caseload.
The Department of Health and Social Services had asked the Legislature to change that percentage because its caseload has dropped from 12,000 in 1996 to 7,000.
Division of Public Assistance Director Jim Nordlund has said within a few years, the exception for 20 percent of the caseload probably won't provide enough leeway to keep supporting genuinely needy families.
The bill would change the percentage to 33 1/3.
Also under the proposed measure, families that don't participate in self-sufficiency activities, such as looking for a job, could face stiffer sanctions, including losing all their benefits.
The bill does, however, include safeguards that require that children not be harmed by the withdrawal of help.
House Bill 402 passed the House unanimously and now moves to the Senate for consideration.
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