[Hpn] FYI Time runs out for thousands of welfare families and this is all over USA

wtinker wtinker@metrocast.net
Tue, 3 Jul 2001 12:49:33 -0400


FYI Time runs out for thousands of welfare families and this is all over USA


             07/03/2001 - Updated 10:55 AM ET
            (By Rick Bowmer, AP)


              Time runs out for thousands of welfare families

                   CLEVELAND (AP) - Terell and Teron are sprawled under
white
 sheets, sleeping soundly on the living room floor. It's 11 a.m., but the
 sunlight is blocked by yellowing newspapers that cover the windows.

                   States where families are reaching welfare limits



                   Their mother, barely awake herself, explains how she lost
 her most recent job, how her phone and utilities were cut off, how she
 drinks too much, how she might not make it to her next birthday and how her
 children sleep on the floor because they don't have beds.

                   In March, Angela Vaugh ran out of time on welfare.

                   Under time limits, one of the central features of the
1996
 welfare overhaul, even the poorest families must leave welfare after a set
 period of time, whether or not they have a job or a plan to support their
 families.

                   Federal law sets the maximum period for receiving
benefits
 at five years, but 21 states including Ohio have shorter time limits that
 have begun to kick in. As of this spring, about 125,000 families had run
out
 of time and lost their checks, an Associated Press survey found.

                   That's a fraction of the total number who have left the
 rolls. The strong economy has helped many find jobs well before their
 benefits expired. Others were cut off because they failed to comply with
new
 rules. And, with welfare rolls way down, most states are making exceptions
 to keep benefits flowing to those who have hit time limits.

                   But beginning this fall, the story line is set to change,
 as the federal limits hit in the remaining states. Federal law caps the
 number of people who may be excused from the five-year limit, and most of
 the upcoming states have much stricter extension policies.

                   "A lot of states are going to say 'that's it' and not
 think about hardship," said Jack Tweedie, a welfare expert at the National
 Conference of State Legislators. "A significant number of families are
going
 to be affected."

                   "Our population is fragile," says Diane Merriweather, who
 visits Cleveland families who've been cut off welfare to try to connect
them
 with other services and emergency assistance. "These problems didn't happen
 overnight. It's years and years of problems."

                   Angela Vaugh was on welfare for 36 months before being
cut
 off. Slumping on her couch, she answers Merriweather's questions.

                   Yes, she drinks too much, a point made by the empty
 whiskey bottle sitting on the mantle.

                   No, she doesn't have any income. She worked as a
 housekeeper at a nursing home but was fired after an argument with a
 co-worker. "It's like I can't keep no job," she sighs.

                   No, she hasn't paid rent for nine months. The two-bedroom
 house where she and her four children live was foreclosed upon and sold at
 sheriff's sale. Soon, the new owner is likely to evict them if she doesn't
 start paying.

                   Hers is the type of family critics of the 1996 welfare
 bill worried about as they argued against time limits.

                   Supporters said welfare should be a temporary way
station,
 not a way of life. Opponents said it's wrong to deny help to someone just
 because they've hit a government-set time limit.

                   Five years later, time limits have yet to make a massive
 impact. Specifically, the AP survey found:

                   _In Oregon and Nebraska, two-year time limits are on the
 books, but almost no one has been affected. Those who follow rules that
 require work or a job search automatically get extensions.

                   _Fewer than 10 Delaware families have reached the time
 limit and been cut off. By comparison, more than 2,100 families have lost
 benefits because they didn't follow work or job search rules.

                   _Barely half of the welfare families in Indiana are
 subject to time limits. Among those excused right off: full-time students,
 anyone over 60, people who live too far from available jobs, those caring
 for sick family members, pregnant women and mothers with babies under age
1.

                   _In Arkansas, Texas, Utah and Tennessee, extensions are
 given to about half the people who have spent the maximum amount of time on
 welfare.

                   _In Massachusetts, a two-year limit applies only to
 able-bodied adults who don't have children under 2, meaning just 25% of all
 welfare families are potentially affected. The state will give an unlimited
 number of extensions to those who run out of time if they promise to follow
 the rules. More than 14,000 families have run out of time, and about 4,500
 have been cut off.

                   "If you haven't done a thing for 23 months and come to us
 and say, 'I've seen the light and I'm willing to take part in a structured
 job program,' in all likelihood, we will give you a three-month extension,"
 said Dick Powers, spokesman for the Massachusetts program.

                   A few states are tougher.

                   Just 10% of extension requests in Arizona have been
 granted. Nearly 12,000 families have been cut, although they only lose the
 adult portion of the welfare check. In Virginia, about 7,100 families have
 hit a two-year time limit and lost their entire checks. But recipients can
 come back after two years.

                   The five-year limits that begin expiring in October are
 for life, and a review of state policies shows that few of the upcoming
 states plan to exempt large numbers of people or offer many extensions.

                   These states may wind up looking more like Ohio, where
 very few extensions are granted. In Cuyahoga County, which includes
 Cleveland, more than 5,000 families were cut off during the first seven
 months. By comparison, it's taken three years to cut off 5,000 families in
 all of Florida.

                   Most of these Cleveland families are not as shaky as the
 Vaughs. Marquita Chisholm, 27, may be more typical. She was working at
 McDonald's when she was cut off welfare last fall but left her job when she
 had her third child. Now she wants to go back to work - and McDonald's
wants
 her back - but her child care fell through.

                   "My biggest fear is not being able to make it with my
 kids," she says, her voice cracking.

                   And she's angry that no one at the county welfare
 department ever suggested that she voluntarily leave welfare while she was
 working and bank her time for an emergency.

                   "Naturally if I could have saved it, I would have. That's
 common sense," says Chisholm.

                   Research suggests that families who leave welfare due to
 time limits are worse off than others who have left the rolls.

                   A Utah survey found that 77% of families who left welfare
 due to increased income were working three to six months later, vs. just
43%
 of those who hit time limits. And 73% of time-limited families were living
 below the poverty line vs. 32% of those who left welfare on their own.

                   In South Carolina, 50% of time-limited families were
 working a year after being kicked off the rolls, vs. 74% of those who left
 due to increased income.

                   In Cuyahoga County, home visitors found that 35% of
 families cut off due to time limits were at "significant risk" of not
 finding enough money to replace their welfare checks. About 18% were in
 questionable or unsafe housing. Only half had sufficient clothing.

                   Angela Vaugh almost didn't show up in the statistics,
 which are gathered by home visitors like Diane Merriweather. Merriweather
 tried three times to talk with Vaugh before finally catching her at home
one
 morning.

                   On the way out, Merriweather contemplates whether to call
 in child protective services. Vaugh seems like a caring mother, but with no
 phone, no income and soon no place to live, her children - one baby, one
 toddler and two in elementary school - may be at risk of neglect.

                   She decides to take a stab at helping Vaugh get into
 public housing and find a new job before sending out county workers.

                   Merriweather gives long hugs to Vaugh and 3-year-old
 Siara, and promises to check back in a few days. The boys, Terell and
Teron,
 are still sound asleep on the living room floor.


 Copyright 2001 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.