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The stroke of midnight meant most people who adopt children from now on will get a tax credit up to $5,000. It meant a president can use a line-item veto for the first time. It meant a tougher road for many poor people.

More than the year changed Wednesday. Changes were made, too, in what the government gives and takes, how it goes about its business, and the rules for everyone to live by - all set out in this year's batch of federal laws effective Jan. 1.This being the aftermath of a promise-filled election year, Wednesday was a bigger day than usual for government giving.

Laws kicked in establishing or increasing tax breaks for health coverage, homemakers, some seniors and more.

Indeed, Republican Rep. Bill Archer of Texas patched together a top 10 list of happy tax amendments. "These changes will result in marked improvements in the lives of the American people," trumpeted Archer, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee.

Other changes began without whistles or bells: the ones where the government takes more or gives less.

Spending cuts generally begin with fiscal years, in the fall, so some have started and many more will come.

But Wednesday marked the start of life without federal cash assistance for 92,000 Americans who are considered by the government to be unemployed only because they are addicted to drugs or alcohol.

When the Supplemental Security Income checks went out Tuesday, theirs were missing for the first time, officials said.

Most legal immigrants lost eligibility for cash welfare in Alabama, Kentucky, South Carolina and Wyoming - the four states so far that have opted under federal law to cut them off. Immigrants who came to the United States just in the last few months are ineligible nationally.

And it's the start of a year bringing major changes to welfare - a staggered overhaul ending the federal guarantee of cash assistance to the needy and spreading work requirements and time limits.

Few changes have been awaited with more anticipation in Washington than the advent of the line-item veto, enabling the president to strike specific spending or tax measures from legislation without killing the whole bill.

That power is designed to go after the pork-barrel projects and special-interest tax breaks larded into legislation. But it may be a few months before President Clinton gives it a first test.

The impact of other Jan. 1 changes, from the arcane to the widely felt, will be more immediate.

Among them:

- A tax credit of up to $5,000 for most adoptions, $6,000 for adoption of a hard-to-place child, available to families with incomes below $115,000.

- Higher fees at many national parks, as part of a plan to raise fees at 100 parks in stages.

- A 2.9 percent cost-of-living increase in Social Security and Supplemental Security Income benefits.

- A 3 percent pay increase for the military.

- The lapsing of a 10 percent federal tax on commercial airline tickets. But airlines are planning to pocket the savings rather than pass them on to travelers.

- A step allowing people aged 65 to 69 to earn $13,500 a year without losing any Social Security benefits, up from $12,500.

- A step allowing small-business owners to deduct 40 percent of the cost of their health insurance premiums, up from 30 percent.

- Penalty-free withdrawals from Individual Retirement Accounts to cover health insurance premiums, available to the unemployed. Penalty-free withdrawals to cover medical expenses for certain workers with high health bills.

The tax breaks are for 1997 and will be claimed in the next tax season. But many people who adopt, for example, can have the amount of tax money deducted from their paychecks lowered sooner in anticipation of the credit.