Thousands must find jobs or lose welfare in Colorado FWD

Tom Boland (
Sun, 25 Apr 1999 00:50:34 -0700 (PDT)
FWD  Denver Rocky Mountain News - April 20, 1999


     Surveys show welfare recipients
     not prepared for July deadline

     By Carla Crowder - Denver Rocky Mountain News Staff Writer

  Thousands of Colorado welfare recipients must find jobs by July or face
losing their public-assistance checks.<P>

   But recent surveys indicate many of the state's poorest families are
ill-prepared for this looming deadline.<P>

   The percentage of hard-core welfare cases -- families who've relied on
the government more than two years --  has doubled since welfare reform
kicked in, according to a state-funded welfare audit.<P>

    About 2,340 (17 percent) of 13,780  families receiving welfare are
long-term recipients. That's up from 1,864 (8 percent) of 23,300 families
in July 1997, when welfare reform began.  The figures don't include the
cases where only the children in a family receive welfare.<P>

   State officials Monday didn't know specifically how many of those people
would lose benefits if they didn't get jobs. Federal law allows hardship
exemptions to be granted in 20 percent of cases.<P>

    But Denver, the county with the most welfare cases, expects about 800
families to be dropped, said Roseann Stiblo, spokeswoman for Denver Human

   "There are huge problems that are about to hit," said Senate Minority
Leader Mike Feeley, D-Lakewood. He  spoke Monday at a news conference where
Catholic Charities released a study on the status of 1,400 low-income
families in Colorado.<P>

   "I see people around the state reaching around and patting themselves on
the back, (because of welfare reform), and I think we have to look at it
much more closely."<P>

   Congress enacted welfare reform in an effort to push recipients into the
workplace. It placed a five-year lifetime limit on benefits and gave people
two years to get a job or lose their checks.<P>

   "I think American society has been very philanthropic to those people in
need," said Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute, a
conservative study group.<P>

    'The idea of receiving money without working for it is something we do
not want to encourage," Caldara said. "At the same time if families are in
need. We need to be ready to help them on a temporary basis."<P>

    The Catholic Charities study found that 39 percent of former welfare
recipients surveyed visited a food bank in the past year, 27 percent either
lived with family, had no permanent housing or were homeless, and 68
percent relied on Medicaid for insurance.<P>

     The advocacy group's findings square with the state audit released
last week. The audit showed that about 80 percent of people leaving welfare
probably remain in poverty, which was defined as a family of three living
on $13,133 or less.<P>

    "Jobs alone in this economy, and the kinds of jobs available in
Colorado are not enough,"  said Jean East, a professor at the University of
Denver School of Social Work, who helped prepare the Catholic Charities

     The League of Women Voters and the National Association of Social
Workers also worked on the report.<P>

    Researchers surveyed 1,400 low-income Colorado families in 10 counties.
About half were welfare recipients. The others were former recipients or
low-income families who sought help from private agencies.<P>

     The survey found that more than 400 of the low-income families needed
food from a food bank, more than 200 moved in with others to pay bills and
more than 100 were evicted from apartments since the onset of welfare

   "In a booming economy, with a well-funded welfare-reform program ...
it's a sin to have so many people who are living in such poverty,"  said
Buffy Boesen, from Catholic Charities' All Families Deserve a Chance
Coalition, an advocacy group for poor people.<P>

   State officials expect Colorado to have a $758 million budget surplus
this year, which by law must be returned to taxpayers.<P>

   "Why would we force families to depend on nonprofits for emergency
services?" asked East. "Given the surplus, this raises the question about
our priorities."<P>

     Many are long-term welfare recipients who have little education and
fewer job skills than people who've moved quickly from welfare into jobs,
according to the survey. Others have health problems or chronically ill

     With job-ready welfare recipients struggling to make ends meet,
advocates for the poor worry that these tougher cases may face severe
hardships when welfare-reform deadlines kick in. <P>

   "Nationwide, and we believe here in Colorado, current recipients --
those that are left on -- they've been on much longer and they report many
more barriers to self-sufficiency, so they are going to need more
services," East said.<P>

    When Congress passed welfare reform, the federal government gave states
extra money to train welfare recipients for jobs.   Although caseloads have
been plummeting, Congress has kept state funding at 1994 levels in order to
invest in job skills to keep the needy off the dole long-term.<P>

   "We have huge pots of money sitting at many of the counties that aren't
being used," said Dace West, community organizer for the All Families
Deserve a Chance Coalition.<P>

     Many Colorado counties have acknowledged being slow to start
job-training programs, and late to inform recipients of new rules.


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