With big changes coming today in Idaho’s welfare system, religious leaders and advocates for the poor worry about people who “fall through the cracks” because of the changes.
They held a news conference on Monday to urge the state Department of Health and Welfare to closely track what happens to families and children through welfare reform. The agency says it’s already doing a lot of tracking or it’s planned to start soon.
“When we see large numbers of families leaving the welfare rolls, we should not assume that this is good news for the children of Idaho,” said Boise State University professor Linda Anooshian.
“It is unlikely that all or even most of these mothers obtained full-time employment that provided livable wages and benefits.
“If Idaho’s poor children are beginning to suffer even more than they have in the past, we need to know about it.”
Mary Anne Saunders, who is heading welfare reform for the state, said tracking is under way. Starting the middle of July, the agency will check with people who did not convert to the new program.
“We will resurvey over time so we can get a picture of what is happening,” she said.
The agency also will be making other studies, such as recidivism when people get off the welfare system and then have to seek assistance again.
The first data other than estimates should be available within a few days of the number of welfare recipients not taking part in the new temporary assistance program, Saunders said.
Effective today, as part of longplanned welfare reform, Idaho moves its Aid to Families with Dependent Children program to Temporary Assistance for Families in Idaho.
It requires adult recipients to work and sign personal responsibility contracts aimed at getting the training that can place them in jobs. There’s a 24-month lifetime limit on direct cash assistance.
Anooshian said Health and Welfare has no formal system set up to track those who leave the welfare system.
The Rev. Steven Tollefson, pastor for First United Methodist Church, said, “We are concerned that the new welfare reforms are going to cause even more people to fall through the cracks of our society. At the Cathedral of the Rockies, we have been experiencing a sharp increase in people needing help.”
The Salvation Army’s Capt. Tom Petersen said he can see the need for welfare reform, but questioned whether there will be enough day care for single mothers to find work.
“Will there be the appropriate safety nets for the thousands of people who may be left in dire straits due to government cutbacks?” he asked. “The increased demand on agency resources could be staggering.”
“We urge government officials to establish an effective tracking system so that a quick response time may be assured if we identify any parts of the new welfare reform program that are ineffective or counterproductive,” Petersen said.
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