Archive for Monday, February 26, 2007

More on welfare than ever before

1 in 6 Americans now rely on public assistance

February 26, 2007


— The welfare state is bigger than ever despite a decade of policies designed to wean poor people from public aid.

The number of families receiving cash benefits from welfare has plummeted since the government imposed time limits on the payments a decade ago. But other programs for the poor, including Medicaid, food stamps and disability benefits, are bursting with new enrollees.

The result, according to an Associated Press analysis: Nearly one in six people rely on some form of public assistance, a larger share than at any time since the government started measuring two decades ago.

Critics of the welfare overhaul say the numbers offer fresh evidence that few former recipients have become self-sufficient, even though millions have moved from welfare to work. They say the vast majority have been forced into low-paying jobs without benefits and few opportunities to advance.

"If the goal of welfare reform was to get people off the welfare rolls, bravo," said Vivyan Adair, a former welfare recipient who is now an assistant professor of women's studies at Hamilton College in upstate New York. "If the goal was to reduce poverty and give people economic and job stability, it was not a success."

Proponents of the changes in welfare say programs that once discouraged work now offer support to people in low-paying jobs. They point to expanded eligibility rules for food stamps and Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor, that enable people to keep getting benefits even after they start working.

"I don't have any problems with those programs growing, and indeed, they were intended to grow," said Ron Haskins, a former adviser to President Bush on welfare policy.

"We've taken the step of getting way more people into the labor force and they have taken a huge step toward self-sufficiency. What is the other choice?" he asked.

In the early 1990s, critics contended the welfare system encouraged unemployment and promoted single-parent families. Welfare recipients, mostly single mothers, could lose benefits if they earned too much money or if they lived with the father of their children.

Major changes in welfare were enacted in 1996, requiring most recipients to work but allowing them to continue some benefits after they started jobs. The law imposed a five-year limit on cash payments for most people in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, or TANF. Some states have shorter time limits.

Nia Foster fits the pattern of dependence on government programs. She stopped getting cash welfare payments in the late 1990s and has moved from one clerical job to another. None provided medical benefits.

The 32-year-old mother of two from Cincinnati said she supports her family with help from food stamps and Medicaid.

Foster said she did not get any job training when she left welfare. She earned her high-school equivalency last year at a community college.

"If you want to get educated or want to succeed, the welfare office don't care," Foster said. "I don't think they really care what you do once the benefits are gone."

Foster now works in a tax office, a seasonal job that will end after April 15. She hopes to enroll at the University of Cincinnati this spring and would like to study accounting. She is waiting to find out if she qualifies for enough financial aid to cover tuition.

"I like data processing, something where it's a bunch of invoices and you have to key them in," Foster said. "I want to be an accountant so bad."

Shannon Stanfield took a different, less-traveled path from welfare, thanks to a generous program that offered her a chance to get a college education.

Stanfield, 36, was cleaning houses to support her two young children four years ago when she learned about a program for welfare recipients at nearby Hamilton College, a private liberal arts school in Clinton, N.Y.

"At the time I was living in a pretty run-down apartment," said Stanfield, who was getting welfare payments, Medicaid and food stamps. "It wasn't healthy."

The program, called the Access Project, accepts about 25 welfare-eligible parents a year. Hamilton waives tuition for first-year students and the program supplements financial aid in later years. Students get a host of social and career services, including help finding internships and jobs and financial assistance in times of crisis.

About 140 former welfare recipients have completed the program and none still relies on government programs for the poor, said Adair, the Hamilton professor who started the Access Project in 2001.

Stanfield, who still gets Medicaid and food stamps, plans to graduate in May with a bachelor's degree in theater. She wants to be a teacher.

"I slowly built up my confidence through education," Stanfield said. "I can't honestly tell you how much it has changed my life."

Programs such as the Access Project are not cheap, which is one reason they are rare. Tuition and fees run about $35,000 a year at Hamilton, and the program's annual budget is between $250,000 and $500,000, Adair said.

In 2005, about 5.1 million people received monthly welfare payments from TANF and similar state programs, a 60 percent drop from a decade before.

But other government programs grew, offsetting the declines.

About 44 million people - nearly one in six in the country - relied on government services for the poor in 2003, according to the most recent statistics compiled by the Census Bureau. That compares with about 39 million in 1996.

Also, the number of people getting government aid continues to increase, according to more recent enrollment figures from individual programs.

Medicaid rolls alone topped 45 million people in 2005, pushed up in part by rising health care costs and fewer employers offering benefits. Nearly 26 million people a month received food stamps that year.

Cash welfare recipients, by comparison, peaked at 14.2 million people in 1994.

There is much debate over whether those leaving welfare for work should be offered more opportunities for training and education, so they do not have to settle for low-paying jobs that keep them dependent on government programs.

"We said get a job, any job," said Rep. Jim McDermott, chairman of the House subcommittee that oversees welfare issues. "And now we expect them to be making it on these minimum-wage jobs."

McDermott, D-Wash., said stricter work requirements enacted last year, when Congress renewed the welfare overhaul law, will make it even more difficult for welfare recipients to get sufficient training to land good-paying jobs.

But people who support the welfare changes say former recipients often fare better economically if they start working, even in low-paying jobs, before entering education programs.

"What many people on TANF need first is the confidence that they can succeed in the workplace and to develop the habits of work," said Wade Horn, the Bush administration's point man on welfare overhaul.

"Also, many TANF recipients didn't have a lot of success in the classroom," Horn said. "If you want to improve the confidence of a TANF recipient, putting them in the classroom, where they failed in the past, that is not likely to increase their confidence."

Horn noted that employment among poor single mothers is up and child poverty rates are down since the welfare changes in 1996, though the numbers have worsened since the start of the decade.

Horn, however, said he would like to see local welfare agencies provide more education and training to people who have already moved from welfare to work.

"I think more attention has to be paid to helping those families move up the income scale, increasing their independence of other government welfare programs," Horn said.

"The true goal of welfare to work programs should be self-sufficiency."


Ragingbear 11 years ago

The problem is not just with welfare, but the entire welfare concept. From disability, to HUD housing, to welfare, food stamps and medicaid. The system is heavily flawed and seems to be designed to actually hold people back. If you try to work, then the amount penalized you by housing, medical, welfare withdrawl and all that stuff can oftentimes result in a penalty exceeding the income. What that means is that you work and make $450, but the system cuts back $500 in services. How is anyone supposed to advance out of that?

BigAl 11 years ago

Can this be true? With Republicans in power for the past several years? Say it ain't so.

geekin_topekan 11 years ago

The problem with the nation's "safety net" is too many use it as a hammock.

unite2revolt 11 years ago


1, Yes 2, Yes 3, From what I have read the majority 80-90% never finish public school, About 50% become poor adults, another 40% end up in prison, another 10-12% die as children, some make it out of poverty though they make up less than 1% of the children born into poverty. 4, No they aren't and neither are those in prison or jail.

Janet Lowther 11 years ago

It seems to me that poverty programs are principally designed to maintain the entrenched poverty bureaucracy.

Benefiting the poor has NOTHING to do with it.

If it did, the proportion of benefit expenses to administrative expenses would be much higher.

IIRC, far less than half of the money put into anti-poverty programs reaches the poor.

Confrontation 11 years ago

I've met several single moms who had to ditch the idea of education in order to survive. Once they started a college program, their daycare was cut. They couldn't afford daycare while going to school. Plus, they received no child support. Someone really needs to go after these jerks and make them pay for their children. It's too easy in the U.S. for a man to ignore his children and go start a new family.

drewdun 11 years ago

"I don't believe in re-distribution of income, but some of these corporations are run by sociopathic theives----even quite capable of running a company into the dirt and walk away with millions.....sometimes obscene millions...not to mention the salaries and options and everything else that is over-inflated. Sprint, look at how they run the company, big money at the top, but the second they see a down trend-WHAM! 5000 people are gone"

Hell has frozen over.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years ago

"Working poor----who are they?"

And, yet, you're so proud of your ignorance.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 11 years ago

A few years ago my sister was laid off from her job. She decided, instead of finding another dead end job, she would go to college and become a teacher. She would have made a fantastic teacher, but welfare required her to work increasingly more hours, as well as, attend school. Yes, she could have made school loans, but teaching doesn't pay well enough to get too far into debt. Her son was becoming an adolescent and needed her attention, so she just quit. She is no longer on welfare, but she is part of the working poor. She works hard, but barely makes enough to make ends meet. Her son is grown now, but she never got much child support to speak of. She is not a deadbeat; she works hard, but a little bit of help with education would have taken her away from living on the edge.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 11 years ago

The answer, RT, is that they look at income, not expenditures, when determining whether a person or family is classifed as being in poverty (and yes, poor is an adjectival form of poverty, although it can also be used as a noun, as in "the poor.")

Kam_Fong_as_Chin_Ho 11 years ago

I'm glad Clinton got the welfare to work program underway. It was past due. People need a hand up, not a hand out. Some people may disagree. I remember a scene in "Bowling for Columbine" where Michael Moore blames Dick Clark for the death of a first-grade child because the shooter's mother was employed by Clark at the time of the shooting. No blame was placed on the person who left the gun in reach of the child shooter though. Bizarre.

geekin_topekan 11 years ago

Passing the buck is a lifestyle for many poor. Everyone's fault but their own.But who cares whos fault?What are you willing to do about getting yourself out?That is the only question and finger pointing that matters. My most recent experience was in Topeka when I visited a friend at his workplace.A digruntled customer was blaming the cab company for her child being late for school..again! Taxi cabs are not an exact science.Anyone who's waited Two hours for one knows this and the driver could really care less.But,to blame the cab drivers for THEIR child not getting to school on time is the very same attitude that helps to keep them down.The idea of maybe walking their child to school if they aren't able to take a bus never crossed their minds.Just put the responsibility on somebody else and then they have a patsy..problem solved.Now they can justify that bottle of wine or hit of crack.

Linda Endicott 11 years ago

Exactly how do you get out of the welfare trap? Yeah, it can be done, but it takes a whole lot of blood, sweat, and tears, and you'd better hope you have relatives around to help out sometimes.

So a person on welfare goes out and gets a job, any job, because SRS requires it now. They get their first paycheck, and their next welfare check for the next month is cut accordingly.

Suddenly the job ends, or the person gets fired (and not everyone is justly fired, you know; some bosses are just a** holes). The benefits for the next month have already been cut, and now there's no job income, either, but SRS won't reinstate the benefits even though the person now has no job.

So, what are they supposed to live on next month? No job, and no welfare benefits, either.

And taxis make people late all the time. If you don't think so, try it sometime. If you don't want to be late for something, you'd best be prepared to call the damn taxi about two hours before you actually have to be there.

prioress 11 years ago

Democrats believe in welfare for poor folks and/or people of color; Republicans believe in welfare for corporations and farmers.

geekin_topekan 11 years ago

"'d best be prepared to call the damn taxi about two hours before you actually have to be there." +++++ If that's what it takes then why not? It's not the service that I am questioning or defending it's the attitude of"Blame anyone but me"that keeps people poor,keeps drunks drunk and keeps many destructive lifestyles spinning nowhere. I could start a life today,walking across the bridge from I-70 without a dime to my name and be off the streets and in an apartment with a job and maybe even enough to go out once in a while within a month. If it is to be it is up to me. I preach what I practice.Utilize the system and services for what they are intended.Don't make a friggin' lifestyle out of it and don't blame anyone but yourself for not making a living. I encourage anyone who is not living in the conditions they wish the were to take what they are giving,eat for free and swallow your pride and wash some dishes or something.But the attitude that this is where I will stay for the rest of my life is destructive and unhealthy.Whether it be a lousy job or collecting a welfare check.Nothing is forever if you dont want it to be.A great flash and bam!.. life is eutopia is a myth that I chased for many years.Believe me,it doesnt work that way.Instant grtification of getting a monthly check or bumming a few dollars is fun and gives a sense of accomplishment and if thats what you want,than have at it.But dont blame anyone for your own short comings or bad decisions when hardships come calling.You can either wither up and die or pull up your socks and do something about it. If welfare is unreliable or untrustworthy then why would you even give it a second,third or fifth chance?Don't tell me it's because of lack of choices.Thats engrained in your psyche but can be defeated.Just up and be what you can be and accept and love the challenge. "what about the mothers?" was just asked of me. A little sacrafice and stick-to-itivness and you will do well.I promise. Choices are all around you.To rely on an outside influence to give you security is the carrier of the social disease of poverty. Just don't expect over-night change/results.

Adrienne Sanders 11 years ago

Good god people, just don't have kids 'til you've finished your education and are in a position to support them! It's that easy! Having one kid at a young, unprepared age can be called an accident, but a lot of folks on welfare have more than one kid, and that's just stupid.

imastinker 11 years ago

I don't know how you reform it though. As a minimum, handling this on the local level may help. It seems different when it's the federal government. If you had to go to the county courthouse with people you know it may make it different.

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