BOSTON — A sweeping welfare bill described as the nation's toughest easily passed the Massachusetts Legislature on Thursday, as lawmakers voted to force thousands of poor people to go to work and to cut welfare checks for others.
The bill was approved by the House, 133 to 21, and the Senate, 31 to 3. Gov. William F. Weld, who has been fighting for more than a year to require welfare recipients to get jobs, indicated that he will sign it today.
If state officials get clearance from the federal government to implement the program, Massachusetts would go farther than any other state in the growing national movement to overhaul welfare, supporters of the bill said.
About 400 welfare mothers and others stormed the Statehouse to protest the action. State troopers wrestled with demonstrators trying to rush Weld's office, and eight people were arrested, one for attacking an officer.
"We're being called irresponsible. Our children are being called illegitimate," said Lisa Sanderson, a 26-year-old welfare mother from Framingham.
The bill would force able-bodied parents with children ages 6 and older to go to work within 60 days, either in private-sector jobs or in state-funded community service.
Officials said this would apply to about 18,400 people, who would have to work at least 20 hours a week. That represents more than 17% of the state's overall welfare caseload of 104,000 families.
The bill also would set a two-year time limit on welfare payments for able-bodied adults, although the state could grant extensions under certain hardship cases.
Other major provisions would:
* Stop extra payments to welfare mothers who have additional children, cutting $90 per month per additional child.
* Halt payments for teen-age mothers who don't finish high school and don't live at home or at a group home.
* Cut payments for all able-bodied recipients by 2.75%, or about $15 a month. As a trade-off, they would be able to keep more of their earnings if their jobs don't pay enough to get them off welfare.