Time’s up for welfare benefits

Just as the governor announces the grim news on the state of the state’s economy—$34 billion in the red—the timetable set five years ago to wean folks off welfare is kicking in.

Laurel Blankinship, public benefits advocate with Legal Services of Northern California, reports that adults who for one reason or another were unable to make the federal government’s required transition from welfare to work are saying goodbye to their benefits forever. More than 100,000 families statewide will lose benefits this year.

The county reports some 250 Butte County families are affected as of Jan. 1, the first month adults can be permanently timed out for cash benefits. The five-year limit went into effect January 1998 and is now beginning to kick in at the first of each month.

In February another 75 families will be shut off, and more will be added with each passing month.

Children still get benefits, Blankinship said, but the family suffers. This is affecting those who under the TANF program—federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families—have not been able to find work and get off assistance. The state’s TANF program is called Cal-WORKS.

“This is the bedrock group,” said Blankinship. “These are people with learning disabilities or language problems.”

A family consisting of a single parent and one child that has been receiving $521 per month will now get $319. A two-parent family with six children will see the aid drop from $1,177 to $984.

“The whole idea was to hopefully transition folks off assistance,” Blankinship said.

But the ambitious plan, which is due for reauthorization by Congress under the direction of Rep. Wally Herger, R-Marysville, chairman of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources, has not worked for everyone.

“What Butte County was trying to do was just a mammoth task,” Blankinship said. “Something like 3,000 jobs had to be created, and the social-welfare workers had to become employment specialists. If they couldn’t help you, then now you are just out of luck.

“What will happen to them? Well that really remains to be seen,” Blankinship said. “This is the worst possible time to be cutting families off, with the [bad] economy and high unemployment rates.”

She said signs of the state’s struggling economy are already beginning to manifest among the state’s poor.

“I’ve heard that they are starting to see a lot more highchairs at the homeless shelters,” she said. “And that’s because they are seeing more and more kids and families.”

Blankinship said there is some help available for those facing the loss of this social safety net, and people can call 345-9491 for more information.

“We are taking names and numbers,” Blankinship said, “because there are some exemptions.”

The deadlines do not apply to Medi-Cal benefits or food stamps or aid received under the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) before Jan. 1, 1998.