February 2, 2011 in City

State reduces aid for families

Thousands lose welfare; others receiving less
By The Spokesman-Review
 
Ted Warren photo

Lawmakers, lobbyists, and others are well aware that the time has come for another session of the Washington state Legislature. The 2011 session opened Jan. 10, and lawmakers are dealing with large cuts to the state budget.
(Full-size photo)

Washington cut about 5,000 families off welfare Tuesday and reduced the monthly benefit to the families remaining on assistance at a time when more people are asking for help.

As of Tuesday, Washington is reducing Temporary Assistance to Needy Families by 15 percent, resulting in an annual savings of $50.68 million.

A family of three having to pay housing costs would see its monthly benefit reduced from $562 to $478.

Advocates for children and the poor say the cuts are unfair while the state’s jobless rate remains at around 9 percent and that families affected did not receive enough notice.

“Today is a sad day for the state of Washington,” said Jon Gould, deputy director of the Children’s Alliance. “The recession has already pushed 40,000 of Washington’s children into poverty. Now, one of the public structures that helps families survive hard times is being dismantled when it is needed most.”

In two years, the number of households receiving TANF under the state’s WorkFirst program has increased 30 percent to about 67,000, according to the Children’s Alliance.

Federal rules prohibit states from providing TANF to families who have received a lifetime maximum of five years of assistance, unless they qualify for a hardship extension.

It is left to the states to decide their own rules for such extensions, but they cannot exceed 20 percent of each state’s TANF caseload.

Because of the increased demand for assistance at a time of declining state resources, the Department of Social and Health Services will allow fewer extensions beginning this month.

Extensions will continue for families in which an adult is unable to work due to age or disability or the need to care for a disabled family member. Also included are families experiencing domestic violence or with a child in state dependency for the first time or where an adult is working full time in unsubsidized employment.

When the new rules were announced last summer, DSHS anticipated about $16.38 million in savings from ending extensions on 5,555 cases.

The department is still assessing eligibility for many families, but a January estimate showed that 4,754 families with more than 10,000 children will lose cash assistance beginning this month.

Robin Zukoski, an attorney with Columbia Legal Services, said the state failed to give timely notices to families affected by the cuts.

“The amount of warning was 10 days,” Zukoski said. Giving such short warning to people without alternative resources “seems particularly unfair.”

DSHS says it sent termination notices out from Jan. 18 through Jan. 21, but that the department sent mass mailings to all WorkFirst clients about the proposed rule changes in October. The department began interviewing families to determine eligibility under the new rules in November.


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