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D.C. Council postpones welfare cuts

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Local,DC,Alan Blinder,D.C. Council,Mary Cheh,Jim Graham,Vincent Gray,David Catania

The D.C. Council voted Tuesday to postpone long-planned cuts to the city's welfare program for another six months.

The city had planned to slash benefits on April 1 for recipients who have been receiving assistance for more than five years, but Mayor Vincent Gray's administration said the District had not yet completed the steps it needed to take before it would be comfortable trimming payouts for thousands of people.

"We're trying to send a message," Gray told The Washington Examiner on Tuesday. "But we're going to do it in a compassionate fashion... We're trying to strike a balance, the balance being to get all of this geared up and to do it so that people don't experience any suffering along the way."

The administration's decision to seek the delay came months after Gray emphatically said he would not back any future postponements, and he acknowledged Tuesday that he had shifted his stance.

"At that point, it was not our intent to extend benefits again," Gray said. "Frankly, striking that balance, you've got to calibrate as you go along. That's what we have here."

Although city lawmakers unanimously supported Gray's plan, they posed pointed questions to David Berns, the director of the D.C. Department of Human Services, ahead of the vote.

"I don't have any confidence -- no offense -- in your department or the administration [to manage the welfare program,]" at-large Councilman David Catania said. "Why should I have confidence in you now?"

Berns said Catania should take comfort that his department is doing "everything possible" to improve the welfare system.

But under questioning from other legislators, Berns acknowledged that his department had known for months it would not be prepared to implement the cuts by the April deadline.

"You knew straight away that you didn't have the money to do what needed to be done?" asked Ward 3 Councilwoman Mary Cheh.

"Yes," Berns replied after earlier acknowledging his department "did not have sufficient funding."

Ward 1 Councilman Jim Graham, who has long resisted the threatened cuts and helped secure a delay to them last year, defended the Department of Human Services.

"We had unrealistic expectations of what the department could do," Graham said. "We have 2,300 assessments that aren't complete."

But Berns said the agency needed to do more than merely evaluate welfare recipients and their needs.

"It's not just the assessments," he said. "It's a matter of putting together all the service plans and helping them."

ablinder@washingtonexaminer.com

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