[Hpn] Welfare's 5-year limit nears in Alaska USA (fwd)

Tom Boland wgcp@earthlink.net
Sun, 28 Jan 2001 14:19:00 -0800 (PST)

http://www.adn.com - Alaska USA
FWD  Anchorage Daily News - file found 24 January 2001



ANCHORAGE, Alaska - Hundreds of Alaska families could be cut
from the welfare rolls in the next few years if they don't get more
help or extensions on the five-year time limit for receiving assistance,
initial state projections show.

These cases, described mostly by state officials as truly needy people,
continue to challenge government and nonprofit agencies engaged in
welfare reform. What to do about them is the topic of community meetings

The state is proposing several fixes, including more intensive programs
for welfare clients.

Alaskans who have received welfare continuously since reforms took
effect in 1997 face a deadline of July 1, 2002, to get a job and move
off the rolls.

The first year, the state estimates that 165 families will lose their cash
assistance. By 2004-2005, as families who have been off and on
welfare are factored in, hundreds more will probably be bumped
off welfare.

A small portion deserve to be cut off, said Jim Nordlund, director of
the Division of Public Assistance. They could work but haven't complied
with directives to look for a job, he said. "They are riding it out," he

But for others, the reasons they remain on welfare are complex and
hard, if not impossible, to address.

"We are concerned about those people who despite their best efforts
to find work have not," Nordlund said.

They struggle with deep-rooted problems such as alcoholism, drug
addiction and mental illness, case managers say. Some land jobs that
don't pay enough to end their reliance on welfare entirely. Many are
true hardship cases: disabled people or parents of disabled children;
victims of domestic violence who would be in danger if they were
required to work; and people with severe learning disabilities.

State and federal law allow 20 percent of the caseload to be exempt,
for hardship reasons, from the strict new time limits. Policy-makers
say it's an arbitrary figure that no longer makes sense.

That number was set in the mid-1990s when caseloads were much
higher and more families would have been exempt. When the deadlines
hit next year, the state caseload will be about 5,600. Of that, 1,125
families will be exempt from the time limit, under state projections.
Those figures don't include more than 1,300 families whose cases
are handled by Native organizations.

Karen Perdue, state Health and Social Services commissioner, said
her agency needs additional funding from the Legislature and a change
in state law to deal with hard-core cases.

Before welfare reform took hold, private charities feared the reforms
would cut the poor off from the government checks that were their
lifeblood. So far that hasn't happened. Many former welfare recipients
are working and like it.

The welfare rolls are fast becoming clear of people who just need
guidance on resume writing or interviewing skills - "that lick and a promise
and you are out the door," said Molly Merritt-Duren, who oversees a case
management program for Native welfare families served by Cook Inlet
Tribal Council, the social service arm of Cook Inlet Region Inc.

Clients now may be homeless, have poor parenting skills or suffer from
fetal alcohol syndrome that was never diagnosed or dealt with, she said.
Some are tangled up with family or legal problems. Her case managers,
each juggling 55 cases, can't give clients with so many problems as
much attention as needed.

"They are all hard to serve," Merritt-Duren said.


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