Lowry outlines effects of federal welfare law

OLYMPIA -- Following an initial review of the new federal welfare law, Gov. Mike Lowry today said that more than 200,000 families in the state will be hard hit by the legislation.

"Poor children and their families will be much hungrier under this law," Lowry said. "We will see more than 200,000 families hit by reductions in their food stamps, with 38,000 of those people cut off food stamps entirely. In addition, this law cuts all benefits to 11,000 elderly, blind and disabled legal immigrants."

Lowry said that although the federal welfare reform plan was promoted as a way to move able-bodied people off public assistance and into jobs, in reality the new law will fall far short of that promise.

"This law simply will not get people into the workforce," the governor said. "In fact, it will more than likely have the opposite effect threatening our state's very successful welfare-to-work program, which is already placing more than 2,200 people into jobs every month. Meanwhile, the law will hurt tens of thousands of people who are struggling to survive on a very small amount of assistance. This is not what any humane person would call reform."

The state Office of Financial Management (OFM) estimates that Washington residents will lose approximately $1 billion in federal dollars between 1997 and 2002 due to provisions in the law, and the block granting of federal assistance will create more competition for those fewer dollars. The greatest impact will be felt by food stamp recipients, who will lose an estimated $476 million in food-buying power over the next six years.

"Nearly half of the savings from this law will come through cuts in food programs to families that are already struggling to put food on the table," Lowry said. "This is broader than just the welfare issue, it is an attack on all poor people, whether permanently disabled, elderly, unemployed or simply awaiting their U.S. citizenship."

In addition to the food stamp reductions, the federal law affects the state's Child and Adult Care Food Program, which reimburses family day care homes for client meals. Under the new law, the standard reimbursement rate will drop from $1.54 to 95 cents for lunch, and from 85 cents to 27 cents for breakfast. Many family child care homes rely on these reimbursements to stay in business.

Lowry said the single group that will be most affected by the federal law is legal immigrants. (Illegal immigrants are already denied eligibility for federal public assistance.) The new law drops most legal immigrants in the country from federal assistance, which translates into 38,000 Washington residents who will lose food stamps and 11,000 residents who will lose Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits. SSI provides aid to low-income people who are elderly, blind or disabled.

Finally, the federal law will abolish the decades-old Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) grant and replace it with a more restrictive, non-entitlement grant called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

While an immediate change for welfare recipients is not expected, the stringent work requirements of TANF could undermine Washington's recently redesigned welfare-to-work program that already puts a strong emphasis on placing people into jobs that can lead to self-sufficiency and a living wage.

During the one-year period ending last June, the state program placed 20,077 welfare recipients into jobs through intensive training and education requirements. If the new federal definitions are upheld, many parents will be cut from TANF without the educational background or skills they need to hold a steady job.

"The problem with this law is that it offers no real solutions, it just assumes that getting people off public assistance is somehow synonymous with getting them into the workforce," Lowry said. "The missing link is what happens to those people between welfare and work whether they have the education and skills to get jobs and stay in the workforce.

"For these people, this new law is the difference between getting job skills and staying unemployable, between having food on the table and going to bed hungry, or between a home and homelessness. This law will hurt those who most need help, and it will hurt our ability to help people on welfare become self sufficient," he said.

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For more information, contact the Governor's Communications Office at 360-753-6790.

Briefing paper on new federal welfare law