Sunday, June 21, 2009

Numbers on Welfare See Sharp Increase

Via:  WSJ h/t cryptogon  


Welfare rolls, which were slow to rise and actually fell in many states early in the recession, now are climbing across the country for the first time since President Bill Clinton signed legislation pledging "to end welfare as we know it" more than a decade ago.

Twenty-three of the 30 largest states, which account for more than 88% of the nation's total population, see welfare caseloads above year-ago levels, according to a survey conducted by The Wall Street Journal and the National Conference of State Legislatures. As more people run out of unemployment compensation, many are turning to welfare as a stopgap.

The biggest increases are in states with some of the worst jobless rates. Oregon's count was up 27% in May from a year earlier; South Carolina's climbed 23% and California's 10% between March 2009 and March 2008. A few big states that had seen declining welfare caseloads just a few months ago now are seeing increases: New York is up 1.2%, Illinois 3% and Wisconsin 3.9%. Welfare rolls in a few big states, Michigan and New Jersey among them, still are declining.

The recent rise in welfare families across the county is a sign that the welfare system is expanding at a time of added need, assuaging fears of some critics of Mr. Clinton's welfare overhaul who said the truly needy would be turned away.


"To me it's good news," says Ron Haskins of the Brookings Institution, who helped draft the 1996 welfare-overhaul law as a Republican congressional staffer. "This is exactly what should happen."

Welfare cases peaked at above five million in 1995 and declined sharply after the 1996 law put time limits on benefits and emphasized moving recipients from welfare to work. The time limits vary by state, but the federally mandated maximum is five years with some exceptions; after that, benefits end.

The cash assistance program, called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), was created by the 1996 law and replaced previous welfare and jobs- training programs. Funded partly by the federal government and partly by the states, it primarily assists women who have children and no job -- or a very low-paying one. The number of families on welfare had been falling steadily and, nine months into the recession, stood at 1.6 million in September 2008, the most recent date for which national tallies are available.

"This is the first real test," said Liz Schott, a welfare analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal Washington think tank. "We always said how is it going to perform? How is TANF going to perform in an economic downturn?"

One clue, she says, can be found in a different measure. Although the TANF program seems to be accommodating increased need, it is doing so at a slower rate than another government initiative: the food stamp program. The number of food stamp recipients has risen in every state and was 19% higher in March than a year ago, a much bigger increase than the number of people on welfare.

[Welfare caseload]

Food-stamp eligibility is significantly easier than the criteria for receiving welfare, so food-stamp assistance tends to rise first. The food-stamp program covers a much larger pool of people who have trouble making ends meet but make more money than the allowable limits under TANF. In general, a family of four must have a monthly income of less than $2,297 to qualify for food stamps. Welfare, on the other hand, is designed as a last resort.

The average monthly welfare benefit in 2006, which reflects the most current data collected by the government, was $372.

Article continues here.

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