Utah's Department of Social Services is asking the federal government to waive certain regulations for Aid to Families with Dependent Children, Medicaid and food stamp participants in the Davis County area.

The waivers are part of the state's pilot welfare reform project, which has been quietly pushing forward since July.The first request, according to Cindy Haag, director of the Assistance Payments Administration, is to make AFDC recipients sign a self-sufficiency agreement as a condition of eligibility for benefits.

They would then be required to develop a self-sufficiency plan with their case manager. The agreement, Haag said, would outline the responsibilities of both the participant and the agency in achieving self-sufficiency.

Regulations allow individuals to obtain financial assistance without committing themselves to a plan, but a position paper released by the department says that "Utah believes that the cycle of dependency would be easier to counteract if mutual expectations were agreed upon prior to the receipt of assistance."

The department also wants to change rules so that a mother whose youngest child is three or older would have to participate in job search activities. The minimum child age is now six. The self-sufficiency program would be available on a voluntary basis to women with younger children.

Another waiver would extend Medicaid benefits for nine months to recipients who leave AFDC because they are earning an income. When a recipient takes a job, she loses medical coverage, which can serve as a "disincentive" for becoming independent, according to Leonard Peevy, Assistance Payments and chairman of the Waiver Task Force.

Employed AFDC recipients who were offered medical benefits on the job, however, would be required to enroll in employer-sponsored programs, if that waiver is granted. That would reduce reliance on Medicaid and offset the cost to Medicaid, Peevy said, and strengthen the client's philosophical transition to self-sufficiency. Health insurance premiums would be counted as an earned income deduction for AFDC benefits.

To offer recipients in Davis County more independence and control over their own budgeting, the department wants to allow clients to "cash out" their food stamps (receive money instead of stamps).

"We don't allow clients to live in the real world or budget for themselves," Peevy said, adding this would give them that opportunity.

An educational benefit exemption is also being sought. Currently, some educational benefits are calculated in when figuring food stamp eligibility. The exemption, Peevy said, would reduce confusion and remove some of the barriers to enrollment in self-sufficiency training programs.

The final request would waive AFDC quarters of coverage and unemployment compensation provisions for Emergency Work Program recipients, offering financial assistance to needy families regardless of their work history.

Under existing regulations, some teenage families and underemployed families cannot qualify for the work program, which requires they earn at least $50 each calendar quarter for six quarters.

The Social Services Interim Committee of the Legislature approved the waivers, which will now be sent to the federal government for a decision.