“I’ve got a bunch of government checks at my door / Each morning I try to send them back / But they only send me more.”

–Nelly Furtado, “Hey Man,” Whoa, Nelly! (Dreamworks, 2000).

Here’s a question maybe our own Karen Woods can address: Does the second phase of welfare reform make it harder for people to get off welfare for good?

That seems to be the implication of this article in today’s WaPo, “Welfare Changes A Burden To States,” by Amy Goldstein.

Having grown up on welfare, Rochelle Riordan had vowed never to ask for a government handout. That was before her hard-drinking husband kicked her and their young daughter out of their house near Lewiston, Maine, leaving her with a $300 bank account, a bad job market and a 15-year-old car held together in spots with duct tape.

Maine’s welfare agency, she heard, was offering help for poor parents to go to college full time. With the state paying for day care and $513 a month in living expenses, Riordan, 37, has been on the dean’s list every semester at the University of Southern Maine, expecting to graduate and start a social work career next spring. But this summer, her plans — and Maine’s Parents as Scholars program — suddenly are on shaky ground; under new federal rules, studying for a bachelor’s degree no longer counts by itself as an acceptable way for people on welfare to spend their time.

A decade after the government set out to transform the nation’s welfare system, the limits on college are part of a controversial second phase of welfare reform that is beginning to ripple across the country. The new rules, written by Congress and the Bush administration, require states to focus intensely on making more poor people work, while discouraging other activities that might help untangle their lives.