Welfare Rolls Up, Benefits Down in Some States
By Pamela M. Prah, Staff Writer
Some of the states that saw the highest increases in welfare rolls during the recent recession are making the deepest cuts to their welfare programs, according to a new report .
Welfare caseloads jumped more than 30 percent in New Mexico , South Carolina and Washington State during the 2007-09 recession, and all three have cut monthly welfare cash assistance by 15 to 20 percent, says the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a liberal-leaning group that studies policies affecting the poor.
That means that a family of three receiving welfare in South Carolina, for example, is now getting $216 a month instead of $270. Benefits for a family of three in New Mexico are $380 a month, down from $447. California saw welfare rolls go up between 20 and 30 percent during the recession and cut benefits for a family of three from $694 to $638.
New Mexico and Washington also suspended programs that provide a transitional benefit to families that leave welfare for low-wage work.
Federal funding for welfare no longer increases when the economy weakens and poverty climbs. Under the terms of the welfare law enacted in 1996, commonly known as TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families), basic federal grants to the states remain level from year to year. A contingency fund was created to provide additional help in hard times, but all the money in that fund was spent by December 2010. Congress provided additional money for 2011, but it lasted only a few months.
"Despite a 9 percent unemployment rate — and the promise by TANF's creators in 1996 that the Contingency Fund would be there to enable states to meet additional need in bad economic times — no contingency funds remain, and Congress has shown no interest in addressing this matter," CBPP said.