Utah officials are to be commended for operating one of the few welfare systems that actually improves the financial condition of the poor.

According to a study by Tufts University's Center on Hunger and Poverty, only 14 states, including Utah, received passing marks regarding welfare. The study's primary conclusion is a sobering one: "The majority (of states) are failing and failing badly."All 50 states and the District of Columbia were ranked based on the evaluation of 34 policy decisions that the federal government left to the states under the welfare overhaul law. Those areas include providing child care, expanding health coverage and offering education and job training.

The majority of states adopted policies that, on the whole, make it more difficult for people collecting welfare to rise above poverty and support themselves, the report contended. Utah ranked 10th nationally with Vermont ranking first. States in the Northeast scored the highest in the study, while those in the South and Midwest did the worst. Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, Maine, New Hampshire and Connecticut were other Eastern states joining Vermont in the top 10.

Many states have failed to improve the eligibility of the poor for benefits or increase the amounts of those benefits, and they have failed to require work. On the positive side, most states are doing a better job of helping welfare recipients get child care so they can search for and hold down jobs. And every state is allowing people to keep more of what they earn or to invest in some kind of tax-free savings.

According to Mason Bishop, spokesman for the Utah Department of Workforce Services, Utah's success has come in part because officials have put their efforts into helping families, not merely decreasing caseloads.

Because of those efforts, there has been a drop in caseloads by about 40 percent over the past five years. Today, only about 6,400 Utah families remain on assistance with a parent who doesn't work.

When Congress overhauled welfare and gave most of the responsibility to the states, the idea was that 50 states would compete to find effective methods of dealing with the poor. After a while, the successful states would rise to the top and others could begin copying their methods.

A lot of Utah's success undoubtedly is due to a strong economy, which enables most people who are employable to work.

The economy, of course, can change quickly, which is why it's important to have programs that are adaptable. Based on the Tufts University study, Utah has already demonstrated that ability.