Should Idaho enact sweeping reforms of its welfare system, from limiting benefits to two years to making all recipients work?
North Idaho residents will have their say Tuesday, when the Governor’s Welfare Reform Advisory Council holds a public hearing in Coeur d’Alene.
The council has developed a package of 42 changes that would remake Idaho’s main welfare program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children. That program now is mostly devoted to sending monthly checks to poor, single-parent families.
The Coeur d’Alene hearing is one in a series being held across the state. So far, most of the proposed changes have drawn support. “Frankly, I have just been shocked at the positive reception we’re getting,” said Karen McGee, council chairman. “We’ve been pleasantly surprised.”
The 24-month lifetime limit for welfare benefits - including payments received in other states - has been the most controversial change at the hearings in southern and eastern Idaho.
In Pocatello, a group of teen moms who attend a special school told the council they worried that the two-year limit would keep some of them from finishing high school.
Other major changes have been popular with hearing participants.
“I’ve heard nothing from anyone criticizing the concept of grandparent responsibility for minor kids having children,” said Ann Kirkwood, a Health and Welfare staffer and spokeswoman for the council.
The council also has heard only positive comments about the proposal to require welfare mothers to go to work 12 weeks after giving birth. “People said, ‘I went back to work very quickly. This is the real world, we don’t get to stay home ‘til our children are 3,”’ Kirkwood said.
A citizen at a hearing in Nampa suggested that people who commit felonies while on welfare should be dropped from the program, and the council is considering the idea.
It will meet Nov. 6, after all the hearings are over, to mull over the comments and make final revisions to the reform plan. By December, the package will be presented to Gov. Phil Batt, who plans to introduce legislation after the first of the year.
In addition to the public hearings, the council is meeting with Health and Welfare workers around the state. McGee said staffers have been enthusiastic about the changes.
“In Idaho Falls, they had a cake for us and a big ‘thank you,”’ she said.
That’s partly because the changes include a move to a “case management” approach, under which a Health and Welfare staffer would work with each recipient to develop a two-year plan for benefits and training, aimed at moving the recipient toward self-sufficiency.
Under the current system, staffers are frustrated that all they can do is “push paper and obey the rules,” McGee said.
Other major changes proposed in the plan include:
All recipients would work, receive on-the-job training, earn a GED or learn basic job skills. Mothers would start working 12 weeks after giving birth. Child care and health benefits would be provided.
Grandparents on both sides would be financially responsible for their minor children’s babies until the parents turn 18. Unmarried teen parents must live with their own parents to receive benefits, and the whole family, including the grandparents, must be eligible.
Idaho would have a one-size-fits-all family payment, regardless of family size.
Whether or not they’re on welfare, parents who fail to pay child support or to allow visitation by the other parent would have driver’s, professional, concealed weapon and hunting and fishing licenses suspended. Names would be published. Non-payment of support by an elected official would be considered malfeasance of office.
Mothers must identify the child’s father to qualify for benefits.
Copies of the 42 proposed changes are available at Health and Welfare offices statewide.
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: TO SUBMIT YOUR COMMENTS People can offer their comments on Idaho’s proposed welfare reform plan at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Holiday Inn, 414 W. Appleway Ave., Bays 1 and 2, in Coeur d’Alene. Written comments also will be accepted. Written comments also may be mailed through Oct. 27 to: Governor’s Welfare Reform Advisory Council, P.O. Box 83720, Boise, Idaho 83720-0036. Tuesday’s hearing is the only one in the Panhandle. The final hearing will be Wednesday at 7 p.m. in Lewiston, in the Williams Conference Room at Lewis-Clark State College. Copies of the plan are available at Health and Welfare offices.