No more study hall?

College students on welfare won’t have to attend supervised study halls to fulfill weekly work requirements and can pursue baccalaureate, advanced degrees, or distance education under new, soon-to-be-released federal regulations for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) Program. (The regulations, obtained by Inside Higher Ed, were briefly available to the public last week before the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services rescinded them because of clerical errors. A spokesman said the content will remain consistent, and a new version will likely be available on the Federal Register within a week).

The final rule updates — and in many respects, relaxes — an interim final rule released in June 2006 after Congress tightened the welfare program as part of the Deficit Reduction Act of 2005. Some of the changes could reflect a return to pre-2006 policies in some states. However, advocates stress that real limitations, including onerous reporting requirements established in the 2006 regulations, remain unchanged and that problems persist.

“They’re a slight loosening of the clamping down that happened 18 months ago,” Liz Schott, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a Washington think tank focused on policies and programs benefiting low- and moderate-income individuals, said of the new regulations.

“These are significant positive changes,” added Amy-Ellen Duke, a senior policy analyst at the Washington-based Center for Law and Social Policy, which also focuses on issues affecting low-income individuals. “But it’s hard to see how this is going to play out necessarily in the long run.”

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