Spokane children’s advocates rallied Thursday to protest President Clinton’s signing of welfare reforms they claim will push kids deeper into poverty.
“There is no way this bill won’t hurt kids,” said Linda Stone of the Children’s Alliance in Spokane. “Too many kids are already poor in this state, and this bill will only make matters worse.”
More than 26,000 Eastern Washington children live in families that get monthly welfare checks. About 11,000 Spokane kids now rely on public assistance.
Children’s advocates warn the new law, which enforces a five-year lifetime welfare limit, punishes and potentially starves the children of parents who can’t find work.
A dozen activists, including a state lawmaker, gathered at Riverfront Park’s Red Wagon to condemn the law, which the state now must figure out how to implement.
State Rep. Lisa Brown, D-Spokane, said the federal reforms are even stiffer than those proposed by state Republicans last year.
Brown said she fears the reforms will reduce the state’s flexibility to improve its welfare system. “These rigid one-size-fits-all programs won’t work.”
Washington’s top welfare official said he is waiting for the fine print before he can forecast the law’s impact.
“We’re still wading through the bill and seeking policy clarification,” said Jerry Friedman, assistant secretary of the state Department of Social and Health Services.
Friedman said parts of the law are daunting, such as requirements to track criminal records of recipients, and to accurately document how long people have ever been on welfare.
Those tasks require the state to coordinate with 6,000 welfare offices across the country - an expensive proposition that Gov. Mike Lowry warns could make the new system pricier than the current one.
Nearly 70 percent of all welfare recipients in this state are kids, and more than half of them are 6 years old or younger. The typical welfare grant in Washington state is $546 per month for a family of three.
The federal law slashes the nation’s food stamps program, too. The stamps help feed about 50,000 Spokane County residents. They also inject an estimated $30 million a year into the local grocery business.
The state Legislature has been slow to craft welfare reforms, but has aggressively backed an increasingly successful welfare-to-work program.
The program allowed the state to spend $35 million less on welfare than expected this fiscal year. It also helped 20,000 welfare recipients find work, about 3,000 in the Spokane area.
Still, welfare remains the main income source for many Spokane families, particularly in the 3rd District, which Brown represents.
Two out of every five residents in the city’s core neighborhoods receive some form of public assistance.
Despite widespread concerns about the coming reforms, including a rebuke by Spokane’s Bishop William Skylstad, most national politicians embrace the new policy and perceive it as popular with the public.
Only one U.S. senator seeking re-election this year voted against it.
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