Thursday, May 04, 2006

Article: Welfare Cuts

There's an excellent article in the Village Voice (and yes, I read the Village Voice) about upcoming changes in welfare law:

While flashy items like marriage promotion programs and pitched battles over child care funding got all the ink, the provision of the new law that could have the greatest impact could be an obscure construct called the "participation rate." In theory, the 1996 law required states to maintain a rate of 50 percent, meaning half of all families receiving public assistance must be in 30 hours a week of either paid jobs, unpaid "workfare," job search, education and training, or other approved activities. However, the Gingrich Congress left a loophole: To encourage states to trim the rolls, they were allowed "caseload reduction credits" based on how many families had moved off welfare since the law was put into place. Thanks to Rudy Giuliani's caseload purges, New York State's effective required rate for years has been near zero—meaning that if the city had wanted to assign everyone to play Skee-Ball all day, the feds wouldn't have batted an eye.

Under the new law, though, states will be credited for caseload cuts only since 2005, and that has many poverty experts worried. "The practical effect is that unless states generate caseload decline after 2005, they face a 50 percent participation rate this fall and every year thereafter," says Mark Greenberg, executive director of the Center for American Progress' Task Force on Poverty. "So the law creates once again a tremendous incentive to simply cut welfare caseloads, whether or not people are getting jobs and whether or not they still need assistance—because the easiest way to meet the new requirements is by restricting assistance to needy families."

New York's compliance rate currently stands at 39 percent, which leaves it better off than some states. (Pennsylvania scores a mere 8 percent.) Still, after a decade of shifting everyone possible into work programs or off welfare, coming up with another 11 percent is going to be a tough nut. "You're left with the kids, and the elderly, and the temporarily or permanently disabled," says Jennifer Werdell, a board member and former co-director of Project FAIR. Of these, tens of thousands of families are already "sanctioned" by the city every year, their benefits reduced or cut off for violating program rules. Usually, says Werdell, it's because they missed an appointment—often because they couldn't find child care, or even had a private job interview and couldn't find anyone at HRA to reschedule their city appointment.

I'll have a long, ranty addition to this later. Short version: Republicans hate poor people.
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