Ex-Welfare Recipients Studied - Results Overview FWD

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Sun, 16 May 1999 22:03:10 -0700 (PDT)


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http://dailynews.yahoo.com/headlines/ap/ap_us/story.html?s=v/ap/19990512/us/afte
r_welfare_2.html
FWD  Associated Press - Wednesday May 12, 1999

     EX-WELFARE RECIPIENTS STUDIED

     By Laura Meckler - Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - Major changes in the nation's welfare laws
have moved millions of families off the rolls, but to where?

Nearly two dozen state studies paint a clear if preliminary
picture:

Most have jobs. They earn more than they got from the
government, but not enough to escape poverty. And while
homelessness and other worst-case scenarios are rare, a substantial
number face daily financial difficulties, such as trouble paying
for food and keeping the phone connected, an Associated Press
review of the studies shows.

In assessing the growing body of information, it's easy for
analysts to focus on the data that supports their convictions, said
Mark Greenberg of the liberal Center for Law and Social Policy.
Work rates are up, yet so are daily struggles.

``It's important to see those are both part of the story,'' he
said.

America's welfare rolls have dropped further and faster than
anyone predicted. Fueled by the strongest economy in a generation
and strict new work requirements and time limits, the rolls have
dropped from more than 5 million families in 1994 to just 2.7
million by the end of last year.

Virtually every state has a study under way to see where these
former recipients have landed. Some examine wage reports from
employers to see who is working. Others use telephone surveys. Some
go door-to-door.

The differences in methodology make it difficult to compare
states. And critics warn that some surveys have low response rates,
raising suspicions that those who are hardest to find may be having
the most trouble.

Still, the current results offer a wealth of new information.

The most basic question is whether people are working, and the
results range from 35 percent in Mississippi to 75 percent in
Florida. Most states hover between 50 percent and 65 percent.

The rates appear lower among those who were kicked off welfare
because they wouldn't follow the rules. In New Jersey, for
instance, just 29 percent of this group had jobs when surveyed.

Even some liberal analysts find the data more positive than they
expected.

``I had a picture in my head of most former welfare recipients
being destitute and left out in the cold, but I've had to rethink
that opinion,'' said Sarah Brauner, a researcher with the Urban
Institute, who has reviewed many studies.

But others argue the nation should expect more given the strong
economy and the billions of dollars states can spend. In most
cases, even those who work don't leave poverty.

In Florida, a state board decided that $10 an hour was needed
for ``self-sufficiency,'' but just 4 percent to 8 percent of state
residents leaving the welfare rolls were earning that much.

In most states, those working tend to earn just above minimum
wage, with averages ranging from $5.50 per hour to $7.50 per hour.

Still, Maryland found wages rose as people had been off welfare
longer, suggesting they were moving up the economic ladder.

But people who have left welfare share many problems:

-Substantial numbers say there was a time when they couldn't
afford to buy food - 43 percent in Florida and 32 percent in
Wisconsin.

-Many get behind paying utility bills - 59 percent in Florida.

-In New Orleans, which conducted its own study, 22 percent have
had their phones cut off.

-In Wisconsin, 68 percent say they are ``just barely making it
from day to day.'' In South Carolina, 56 percent say that.

Only a tiny number report being homeless or having to give up
children to foster care.

Many sound positive about their new lives. In Kentucky, more
than half say they are better off since leaving welfare. In South
Carolina, 59 percent say they have more money now. In Mississippi,
60 percent say life was not better before.

In Iowa, 40 percent said their income went up after leaving
welfare, while 49 percent said it went down.

So how are people supporting themselves, particularly those not
working?

Most rely on friends and family. In Florida, 23 percent said
they had moved in with someone else to help pay bills. In New
Mexico and New Jersey, nearly half got help from family.

But some experts worry this support may not last. Patience may
wear thin, generosity may run out, and many of these families and
friends are poor, too.

In the meantime, advocates and state officials alike worry that
many people are not using - and may not know about - government
supports. That includes Medicaid, food stamps and child care
subsidies, all of which are available even after a family stops
receiving cash welfare.

In Massachusetts, just 7 percent of families who left welfare
get food stamps. In South Carolina, just 13 percent are getting
child care subsidies. In Michigan, barely six in 10 get Medicaid.

Whether the early findings spell success depends largely on
expectations.

``The ambition of the program is to turn welfare poor into
working poor and give them a chance at something better,'' said
Jack Tweedie of the National Conference of State Legislatures.
``The program is not going to convert the welfare poor into the
middle class, and we shouldn't look at it that way.''

END FORWARD

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