Safety Net Programs for Poor Families

  • The end of welfare as we know it, By Alana Semuels, April 1, 2016, The Atlantic: “By the numbers, welfare reform was a success. More than 13 million people received cash assistance from the government in 1995, before the law was passed. Today, just 3 million do. ‘Simply put, welfare reform worked because we all worked together,’ Bill Clinton, who signed into law welfare reform, or the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times in 2006. Clinton had campaigned on a pledge to ‘end welfare as we know it’ and today it is all too apparent that he succeeded…”
  • Welfare time limits save Michigan millions, but cost 32,090 families, By Emily Lawler, April 5, 2016, MLive: “Since Michigan enacted sweeping welfare changes nearly five years ago, more than $62 million has been saved. But for 32,090 families, those savings means they can never get cash assistance, even in the most dire of emergencies. In 2011, Michigan’s legislature tightened and started enforcing time limits on cash assistance, or what the state calls its Family Independence Program. The move was swift…”
  • Maine’s welfare policies have taken a turn, with dire consequences for kids, By Sandy Butler and Luisa Deprez, March 8, 2016, Bangor Daily News: “Changes in public policy motivated by politics, not facts, have been disastrous for Maine children. Since Congress passed ‘welfare reform’ 20 years ago, it has become increasingly clear that many of these so-called reforms have failed, leaving many parents and children in deeper poverty without sustainable employment. Many of these policies simply were not based in the realities of people’s lives and ignore the economic environment people are living in. They are unsupported by social science research or evidence and have left far too many families and children behind…”
  • Stripping D.C.’s poor families of their last income source, By Judith Sandalow, March 11, 2016, Washington Post: “Winter snowstorms send most parents into panic mode. When my boys were young, I remember doing the calculations. Are schools closed? Can I find someone to watch them? It’s even more of a burden for families struggling to make ends meet. Their list of questions grows more urgent. If I miss my shift at work, will I get fired? Is there enough food in the house to feed the kids? How are we going to stay warm when the heat’s been turned off..?”
  • Legislature battles over poverty – but agreement possible, By Matthew Albright, April 5, 2016, News Journal: “When DuPont Co. came calling, it took the General Assembly only days to pass a pair of corporate tax breaks worth tens of millions of dollars. But after Democrats and Republicans alike sprinted to protect high-end research and management jobs, lawmakers are now deliberating on how to help those on the opposite end of the income ladder – those languishing in poverty. Some of that discussion has already bogged down in familiar partisan battlefields, like debates over the minimum wage and the size and scope of a taxpayer-funded safety net…”

Drug Testing and Public Assistance Programs

Welfare drug tests to start in state, By Spencer Williams, March 24, 2016, Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette: “State officials soon will start a statewide program of drug screening and testing for the heads of thousands of needy Arkansas families who apply for and receive government aid.  On Wednesday, the head of the Department of Workforce Services, Daryl Bassett, said he expects the state to begin statewide screening and testing within ‘seven to 10 days.’ Supporters claim the program will improve the quality of the workforce, send those in need to drug treatment and safeguard government money from being spent by drug users. But critics argue the program could cost too much for its return…”

TANF Benefits – New Jersey

Should N.J. raise welfare grants to reduce child poverty?, By Susan K. Livio, February 12, 2016, Star-Ledger: “After decades of pleading with state leaders to raise the value of welfare benefits in New Jersey, anti-poverty groups joined with top lawmakers at the Statehouse Thursday who vowed to phase-in a 30-percent increase over the next three years…”

Drug Testing and Public Assistance Programs

  • Drug testing for benefits in Tennessee yields only 65 positives, By Anita Wadhwani, February 7, 2016, The Tennessean: “A Tennessee law requiring drug screening and testing of public benefit seekers has yielded few positives for illicit drugs — and no one has been denied benefits for failing a drug test, though scores of people have walked away from the application process.  Just 65 of 39,121 people applying for a cash assistance program known as Families First in Tennessee tested positive for illegal substances or drugs for which they had no prescription since the law was implemented July 1, 2014, according to data provided by the Department of Human Services to The Tennessean…”
  • Alabama would be allowed to drug test food stamp recipients under proposal by Rep. Robert Aderholt, By Leada Gore, February 12, 2016, AL.com: “Food stamp recipients could be subject to drug testing under a plan unveiled Thursday by Alabama Congressman Robert Aderholt. Rep. Aderholt, R-Haleyville, said his  proposal would allow states to opt into mandatory drug testing as a requirement for receiving food stamps…”

Safety Net Programs – Pennsylvania, Kansas, Missouri

  • Three-month time limit on food stamps to affect many in Allegheny County, By Kate Giammarise, January 4, 2016, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “A three-month time limit on food stamps for unemployed or underemployed adults ages 18 to 50 who aren’t disabled or raising minor children will apply to most of Allegheny County and southwestern Pennsylvania in 2016, according to a recent federal decision. The change is due to a requirement in the 1996 welfare overhaul law that hasn’t been in effect for many years because of high unemployment rates during the recession. As unemployment rates continue to fall, some parts of Pennsylvania will be subject to the rule this year, though areas with more persistent high unemployment are exempt…”
  • Gov. Sam Brownback announces mentoring program for welfare recipients, By Bryan Lowry, January 6, 2016, Wichita Eagle: “Gov. Sam Brownback unveiled a mentoring program for welfare recipients Wednesday, a program he hopes will help lift low-income families out of poverty.  The program aims to reduce the amount of time participants rely on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, more commonly known as welfare, by pairing them with community volunteers and helping them pursue education and employment. It is based on a similar program used by the Kansas Department of Corrections to curb recidivism…”
  • Missouri’s social safety net shrinking with new laws, Associated Press, January 1, 2016, Kansas City Star: “Missouri’s social safety net will shrink in January as new laws force an end to welfare payments for some families and reduce how long the unemployed can receive benefits to one of the shortest periods nationally…”

TANF Time Limits and Domestic Abuse Survivors

Abused and impoverished: Domestic abuse survivors vexed by new welfare limitations, By Natalia Alamdari, November 3, 2015, Columbia Missourian: “Kenya was 15 when she started dating him. She gave birth to their son, Kayden, by the time she was 16. Although still a child herself, Kenya knew the hitting and the name-calling were wrong. Having your hair pulled and being yelled at in public wasn’t normal, right? But still, ‘all I wanted was for him to care about me,’ she said. So Kenya stayed with her abusive boyfriend. She was too young to sign a lease for her own apartment and had nowhere else to go…”

TANF Work Requirements – Ohio

Ohio wants easing of federal welfare-to-work rules, By Catherine Candisky, November 2, 2015, Columbus Dispatch: “Gov. John Kasich’s administration has asked federal regulators for greater flexibility in work requirements to help prepare welfare recipients for jobs. The Republican governor continues to support mandating work and education for most adults receiving public benefits. But state officials say federal rules are ‘overly prescriptive’ and make it difficult to prepare welfare recipients for jobs…”

State Restrictions on Public Assistance for Drug Felons

States rethink restrictions on food stamps, welfare for drug felons, By Rebecca Beitsch, July 30, 2015, Stateline: “Johnny Waller Jr.’s 1998 felony drug conviction has haunted him since the day he left a Nebraska prison in 2001. Waller, now 38, applied for 175 jobs without getting one. He had trouble getting a federal loan for college because of his drug conviction, so he started his own janitorial business, in Kansas City, Missouri. And when his toddler son, Jordyn, was diagnosed with stomach cancer and needed full-time care, Waller’s record disqualified him from receiving food stamps. ‘I really needed assistance there,’ Waller said of the time in 2007 he had to give up his job to care for Jordyn. But he couldn’t get it, he said, because of a conviction ‘when I was 18 years old that didn’t have anything to do with my son…'”

Measuring Poverty in Schools

To measure poverty, states look beyond free lunch, By Amy Scott, June 23, 2015, Marketplace: “For years, the federal school meals program has been one of the most powerful forces in education. Not just because it feeds kids, but because the percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced-price meals has been the main way schools measure poverty. That number, in turn, can impact everything from school funding levels to accountability programs.  But that’s changing. Massachusetts has introduced a new way of measuring poverty in its schools…”

Participation in Public Assistance Programs

  • What it really means to rely on food stamps and welfare, By Emily Badger, May 29, 2015, Washington Post: “Public dependence isn’t a permanent condition, although we often talk about people in need of government aid as if they constitute some kind of fixed class — as if welfare recipients have always needed welfare, as if the families on food stamps today are exactly the same ones on food stamps a decade ago.  The reality is that Americans who need government aid, like Americans living below the poverty line, represent a shifting population…”
  • 1 in 5 Americans receive government assistance: food stamps, welfare, Medicaid details, By Rich Exner, May 28, 2015, Cleveland Plain Dealer: “One in five Americans received monthly assistance from at least one of a variety of government programs throughout  2012, a report issued Thursday by the Census Bureau says. The report estimated that 52.2 million Americans — or 21.3 percent of the people in the United States — received assistance each month during 2012…”
  • Census: No. of Americans on assistance may be leveling off, By Jesse Holland (AP), May 28, 2015, Lexington Herald-Leader: “The once-increasing number of Americans getting some kind of public assistance from the U.S. government may be slowing down, according to new information from the U.S. Census Bureau. Approximately 52.2 million Americans — or 21.3 percent — participated in one or more of six poverty assistance programs on average each month in 2012, a new Census report released Thursday said. Although higher than the 20.9 percent found in 2011, government officials said the 2012 number is not a statistically significant change from the previous year’s.

Welfare Time Limits – Arizona

Arizona sharply limits welfare to 12 months, Associated Press, May 20, 2015, Arizona Republic: “Facing a $1 billion budget deficit, Arizona’s Republican-led Legislature has reduced the lifetime limit for welfare recipients to the shortest window in the nation. Low-income families on welfare will now have their benefits cut off after just 12 months. As a result, the Arizona Department of Economic Security will drop at least 1,600 families — including more than 2,700 children — from the state’s federally funded welfare program on July 1, 2016…”

Welfare Reform – Kansas

$25 ATM limit for Kansas welfare recipients may violate federal law, By Lindsay Wise and Dion Lefler, May 16, 2015, Wichita Eagle: “A first-of-its-kind provision that prevents welfare recipients in Kansas from withdrawing more than $25 a day from an ATM might violate federal law – and could jeopardize the state’s federal funding if not amended. The Social Security Act requires states to ensure that recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, ‘have adequate access to their cash assistance’ and can withdraw money ‘with minimal fees or charges.’  At stake is about $102 million in TANF block grant money that Kansas receives every year from the federal government.  The ATM limit was added as an amendment to a welfare overhaul bill signed in April by Gov. Sam Brownback…”

Federal Programs and Poverty Alleviation

Safety net does more to ease poverty than previously thought, new study finds, By Greg Sargent, May 6, 2015, Washington Post: “The Baltimore riots have re-ignited the ideological wars over the efficacy of government spending to alleviate poverty, with Republicans who want to slash the budget seizing on images of urban chaos to argue that federal anti-poverty policy has been an abject failure at accomplishing its own goal. Paul Ryan suggests dumping more cash into the bottomless pit otherwise known as federal spending on the poor will only produce the ‘same failed result.’  But a new study being released today finds that the federal safety net may actually be doing more to alleviate poverty than previously thought. Thestudy, from the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, uses a new statistical technique to measure the impact of federal programs on the poverty rate, correcting for what it says are defects in previous accounting methods…”

Welfare Reform – Missouri

After his welfare limits veto is overridden, Nixon vetoes unemployment changes, By Jason Hancock, May 5, 2015, Kansas City Star: “Lawmakers voted Tuesday to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto of a bill that would cut thousands of low-income Missourians off of a federal welfare program.  Meantime, Nixon vetoed a separate bill that would cut the amount of time a laid-off worker could collect jobless benefits to 13 weeks from 20 weeks. Republican leaders spoke confidently that they could override that veto, too…”

Working Families and Public Assistance

  • Working, but needing public assistance anyway, By Patricia Cohen, April 12, 2015, New York Times: “A home health care worker in Durham, N.C.; a McDonald’s cashier in Chicago; a bank teller in New York; an adjunct professor in Maywood, Ill. They are all evidence of an improving economy, because they are working and not among the steadily declining ranks of the unemployed.  Yet these same people also are on public assistance — relying on food stamps, Medicaid or other stretches of the safety net to help cover basic expenses when their paychecks come up short.  And they are not alone. Nearly three-quarters of the people helped by programs geared to the poor are members of a family headed by a worker, according to a new study by the Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education at the University of California. As a result, taxpayers are providing not only support to the poor but also, in effect, a huge subsidy for employers of low-wage workers, from giants like McDonald’s and Walmart to mom-and-pop businesses…”
  • Get a job? Most welfare recipients already have one, By Eric Morath, April 13, 2015, Wall Street Journal: “It’s poor-paying jobs, not unemployment, that strains the welfare system.  That’s one key finding from a study by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, that showed the majority of households receiving government assistance are headed by a working adult.  The study found that 56% of federal and state dollars spent between 2009 and 2011 on welfare programs — including Medicaid, food stamps and the Earned Income Tax Credit— flowed to working families and individuals with jobs. In some industries, about half the workforce relies on welfare…”

States and Welfare Reform

  • States take aim at social welfare programs, By Tierney Sneed, April 9, 2015, US News: “State lawmakers attracted national attention this week for seeking to ban the use of welfare funds on lingerie, fortune tellers or even cookies, proposals that reflect a renewed focus on scrutinizing the social safety net as the country rebounds from the Great Recession.  A Missouri bill introduced by Republican state Rep. Rick Brattin would outlaw the use of welfare funds to purchase chips, energy drinks, soft drinks, seafood and steak. Kansas legislation, which has passed both chambers and is on its way to Gov. Sam Brownback’s desk, is a more comprehensive overhaul of how the state administers its benefits.  Critics say such measures stigmatize the poor and that Republicans, who are often behind the efforts, are simply playing politics in limiting assistance programs – especially since the money is provided by the federal government rather than the state. Proponents point out that states still share the administrative costs and have an interest in pursuing programs that are effective in getting people back to work, regardless of how they’re funded​…”
  • Why is Kansas pursuing tougher welfare rules?, By Amanda Paulson, April 7, 2015, Christian Science Monitor: “Starting in July, welfare recipients in Kansas won’t be able to use government aid to go to a tattoo parlor, nail salon, movie theater, or swimming pool, among other spots, assuming Gov. Sam Brownback signs the measure passed by the state legislature.  The maximum they can withdraw from an ATM will also be limited, to $25 a day. They won’t be able to spend their benefits out of state, and the maximum amount of time they can receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) over the course of a lifetime will be reduced from 48 to 36 months.  States have great discretion with regard to the rules they can put in place for TANF block grants, and a number of states have sought to limit in various ways how recipients can use those funds. But the bill in Kansas, as well as measures being debated in Missouri that would severely curb eligibility and impose restrictions on how recipients can use their aid, appear to take the constraints to a new level. They also don’t seem to be driven primarily by fiscal reasons, but rather by ideological ones, observers say…”

Welfare Reform – Kansas

Bill tightening restrictions on welfare recipients advances in Kansas Senate, By Bryan Lowry, April 2, 2015, Wichita Eagle: “The Kansas Senate is moving forward with a bill that limits people to 36 months of welfare benefits, bans repeat drug offenders from food assistance for life and restricts the amount recipients can withdraw from an ATM using a welfare benefits card.  Senators passed HB 2258 by voice vote Wednesday after a heated debate that lasted most of the day. The bill will be up for a final vote Thursday and is expected to pass easily. The bill makes changes to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, commonly called welfare, and the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, commonly called food stamps. The programs are federally funded but administered by the states…”

Welfare-to-Work Programs

  • ‘Welfare-to-work’ brings $455,000 into county, By Anna Rumer, February 27, 2015, Zanesville Times Recorder: “Muskingum County’s ‘welfare-to-work’ program is one of the most effective in the state, bringing nearly a half-million dollars in state funding into the county while providing almost 250 people with a second chance at gainful employment.  The Ohio Work Incentive Program, commonly referred to as ‘welfare-to-work,’ is a collaboration between local human services and OhioMeansJobs that allows people receiving cash assistance to forgo their usual 130 hours of work programs required per month to collect welfare and connects them to a paying job…”
  • From welfare to work: Massachusetts Senate to focus on developing path for aid recipients to fill jobs, By Shira Schoenberg, February 17, 2015, MassLive: “The Massachusetts Senate plans to use the upcoming legislative session to develop a strategy to move more people off welfare and into jobs, Senate President Stan Rosenberg, D-Amherst, said Tuesday.  ‘Not long ago, Massachusetts was the pioneering state on workfare,’ Rosenberg said. ‘Massachusetts in recent years has fallen significantly behind most other states and is one of worst performing in the country in helping people move from welfare to work.’  The effort, referred to as the ‘WorkFirst Initiative,’ will be led by state Sen. Marc Pacheco, D-Taunton, and will involve coordination between legislative committees that deal with the economy, education, families and public assistance…”
  • California senator says ‘welfare queen’ law must go, By Christopher Cadelago, February 22, 2015, Sacramento Bee: “The law passed two decades ago, with Democrats in charge of the Legislature: In California, a family that conceives and births an additional child while on welfare is barred from getting an increase in its grant.  Today, with Democrats still in the majority, the measure’s base of support is eroding. Advocates for the poor are mounting their strongest effort yet to repeal the so-called ‘maximum family grant’ rule, a big-ticket spending item that could bleed into state budget talks…”

Welfare Reform – Ohio

John Kasich’s new coordinated welfare approach to start with teens, young adults, By Robert Higgs, January 20, 2015, Cleveland Plain Dealer: “Gov. John Kasich will propose new approaches for Ohio’s welfare programs in the budget he unveils Monday, targeting teens and young adults as part of an effort to intervene at an early age to stop poverty. The changes would require individual counties, which administer the assistance programs across the state, to designate a lead entity that will be responsible for coordinating help — assistance programs and job training efforts — and matching them to clients…”

State Welfare Programs – Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Michigan

  • Participation in ‘workfare’ fell sharply in Mass., study finds, By Megan Woolhouse, January 22, 2015, Boston Globe: “Massachusetts has the nation’s lowest participation of welfare recipients working to receive their benefits, undermining one of the key reforms that was intended to move people from public assistance to self-sufficiency, according to a study to be released Thursday by a conservative Beacon Hill think tank. Only 7.3 percent of people receiving welfare benefits in the state held jobs in fiscal 2011, the most recent year for which data were available, according to the Pioneer Institute. That’s roughly one-fourth the national average of about 30 percent…”
  • Walker budget to bar drug users from food stamps, Medicaid, By Jason Stein, January 22, 2015, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: “With federal approval in doubt, Gov. Scott Walker is moving ahead with his campaign pledge to ensure that drug users aren’t getting public health care, food stamp or jobless benefits. As Walker explores a 2016 presidential bid, the proposal being included in the governor’s Feb. 3 budget bill will help him sell himself to GOP primary voters as a leader committed to overhauling the core programs of government. For the first time Thursday, Walker committed to drug testing recipients of BadgerCare Plus health coverage and also pledged free treatment and job training for those testing positive for drugs…”
  • Snyder’s welfare plan needs ‘mother of all waivers’, By Chad Livengood, January 22, 2015, Detroit News: “Gov. Rick Snyder said Thursday the federal government may need to grant Michigan ‘the mother of all waivers’ for his administration to redesign some 145 different social services programs. Snyder’s ambitious ‘river of opportunity’ agenda that he unveiled Tuesday in his State of the State address may involve a complex untangling of a federally financed state bureaucracy for the governor to make government programs more ‘people centric’ instead of program-driven…”