[Hpn] A third who left welfare go back -- SEATTLE POST-INTELLIGENCER

chance martin streetsheet@sf-homeless-coalition.org
Thu, 25 Jan 2001 17:49:41 -0700


A third who left welfare go back

Surprise finding puts pressure on governor to find way to correct it

Thursday, January 25, 2001


A surprisingly high number of poor families leaving the state's welfare
rolls are returning to public assistance within about a year, the first
long-term assessment of the state's sweeping 1997 welfare reform experiment
has found.

A full third of the 3,045 welfare families followed over a 13-month period
had to reapply for benefits, the University of Washington study found.

As a result of the findings, released yesterday, Gov. Gary Locke's
administration will face added pressure to help welfare recipients find
lasting employment before they reach an impending five-year lifetime limit
on benefits. 

Nearly 8,000 welfare recipients are at risk of being completely cut off from
cash assistance when they exhaust their lifetime benefits between August
2002 and July 2003, a new report by the Washington State Institute for
Public Policy has estimated.

"We have not been successful (in helping) all families so far," said Ken
Miller, the governor's chief advisor on welfare reform. "Too many are still
stuck on public assistance or mired in poverty."

Previous state surveys of people leaving welfare had indicated that far
fewer families, about 24 percent, were failing to stay off assistance. But
those were snapshots that didn't follow recipients over time.

"The fact that it's not sticking for a third of the families is a problem,"
said Russ Lidman, an architect of welfare policy at the state's Employment
Security Department.

Tony Lee, statewide director of the State Poverty Action Network, said the
new findings underline the need for the state to spend more time and money
assessing the skills of incoming welfare recipients and matching them to
jobs they can succeed at over the long-term.

That means expanding job training programs and paying more careful attention
to the support a poor mother needs so she can stick with her first, usually
low-paying, job -- such as access to state child care grants, transportation
vouchers, food stamps and health insurance, Lee said.

"It's easy to get people into their first job, but it's much harder to keep
people in their jobs and get them into better jobs," he added.

In 1997 Washington began requiring all welfare recipients to work at least
part-time and placed a 60-month cap on cash benefits.

Since then, the number of families collecting checks has dropped a
remarkable 41 percent, to just 53,153 families.

The average length of stay on the welfare rolls today is 18 months, compared
to about 28 months before welfare reform was implemented, the Institute for
Public Policy report found.

And the UW study released yesterday documented that Washington is continuing
to get people off welfare and into jobs at a rapid rate. About 57 percent of
the parents followed in the study found jobs between March 1999 and March

Lee said he was heartened by the study's finding that average hourly wages
for those landing jobs steadily increased from $7.20 in March 1999 to $7.80
in June 2000, partly because the state's minimum wage increased during that

Average monthly earnings jumped from an average of $1,000 a month to $1,200
a month between March 1999 and March 2000, the study also found. That's
about $100- a month above the federal poverty- level during that time for a
family of three.

"It used to be that welfare set people up to get cash assistance and not
work ... and today many, many people are getting jobs," said Marieka
Klawitter, the UW public affairs professor who led the study. "The big
challenge is creating a system that helps people succeed as they are
transitioning into work."

For instance, only a minority of the former welfare recipients found good
benefits at their new jobs. Only about a third of the working parents
received paid vacation, sick leave or health insurance.

Klawitter said the study also offered clues about why so many of those who
found jobs later lost them and needed assistance again.

About 36 percent of those who returned to welfare within six months reported
being in poor or only fair health. And 31 percent reported using mental
health services, a sign that mental illness may play a significant role in
why they fail in their new jobs.

Those who returned to the rolls also were less likely to have a high school
diploma or recent work experience than those that stayed off welfare, she

As the UW continues to follow the families over a five-year period,
Klawitter plans to collect more specific information on why those coming
back to welfare quit or were fired from their jobs, which should help the
state design better employment programs.

In the meantime, Miller, the governor's welfare advisor, said the state has
begun offering intensive job placement and training services to those coming
back to the rolls, matching them up with "job success" coaches.


P-I reporter Heath Foster can be reached at 206-448-8337 or

 1998-2000 Seattle Post-Intelligencer


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