Iowa Welfare Study Shows Mixed Results
By Mary Guiden, Staff Writer
Most Iowans who left the welfare rolls in 1999 were able to remain off public assistance for at least a year, says a new report from Mathematica Policy Research, Inc., a nonpartisan research firm that conducts surveys for federal and state governments. On the flip side, a substantial number of the 400 families surveyed did not stay off welfare, known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or TANF. When someone cycles on and off TANF over a number of years, it leaves him or her at greater risk of hitting the state's time limit before finding steady employment.
On the flip side, a substantial number of the 400 families surveyed did not stay off cash assistance, known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or TANF. When someone cycles on and off TANF over a number of years, it leaves him or her at greater risk of hitting the state's time limit before finding steady employment.
In Iowa, that limit is five years, which means the assistance deadline for some will run out next January.
Researchers also found that one year after leaving welfare, the percentage of families that escaped poverty and the percentage that remained in poverty were about the same.
Among additional study highlights:
- 80 percent of the heads of families found employment shortly after leaving welfare, but one in four of these was no longer working 12 months later.
- Between one-quarter and one-third of families eligible for Medicaid were not enrolled. Even larger proportions did not receive food stamps or help with child care.
The group's findings are very similar to those of other states, says Mathematica's Jacqueline Kauff. Based on the Iowa report and what she's seen elsewhere, Kauff said states "need to focus more attention on designing post-employment services to help current and former TANF recipients maintain jobs."
Why did people on welfare lose the jobs they had? Kauff says the primary reason was due to physical or mental health problems. To combat the job loss, "policymakers will need to pay attention to that [factor] as well as child care and transportation," she says.
Despite current budget shortfalls in the states, Kauff cautions against cutbacks on advertising or outreach for food stamps and Medicaid. Eligible Iowans aren't signing up for things like Medicaid and food stamps because they don't understand what they need to do to continue on the program. "States need to make a lot of tough choices. Some of the choices have repercussions for the well-being of" those on welfare, she says.