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21. Recession Causes States to Cut Welfare

Mother Jones, January 15, 2009
Title: “Brave New Welfare”
Author: Stephanie Mencimer

Associated Press, March 26, 2009
Title: “States consider drug tests for welfare recipients”
Author: Tom Breen

Student Researcher: Samantha Barowsky, Southwest Minnesota State University
Malana Men, Sonoma State University
Faculty Evaluator: Douglas Anderson, PhD
Southwest Minnesota State University

Many states are in the midst of an aggressive action to push thousands of eligible mothers off Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), traditionally known as welfare. Families are being denied aid so that savings can be redirected in state budgets.

Nationally, the number of welfare recipients fell more than 40 percent between 2001 and June 2008.  Louisiana, Texas and Illinois have each dropped 80 percent of adult recipients since January 2001. The state of Georgia had a 90 percent drop, with fewer than 2,500 Georgian adults receiving benefits, down from 28,000 in 2004.

In Georgia last year, only 18 percent of children living below 50 percent of the poverty line—which is less than $733 a month for a family of three—were receiving TANF.

In 2006, the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence conducted a survey to find out why so many women were suddenly failing to get welfare benefits. They discovered that caseworkers were actively discouraging women from applying. Welfare caseworkers were reportedly telling applicants that they would have to be surgically sterilized before they could apply for TANF. Disabled women were told they couldn’t apply because they didn’t meet work requirements. Others were warned that the state could take their children if they applied for benefits. Women are increasingly vulnerable to sexual assault and exploitation—sometimes by the state officials or caseworkers assigned to help them. Arrests of women for prostitution and petty crime went up as more and more families were denied welfare.

Students completing college degrees were misinformed that they would be denied aid once the turned twenty, regardless of graduation status. Students as young as sixteen were told that they must work full time or lose benefits.

Texas reduced its caseload by outsourcing applications to a call center, which not only wrongfully denied some families, but lost applications altogether.

In Florida, one innovative region started requiring TANF applicants to attend forty hours of classes before they could even apply. Clients trying to restore lost benefits had once been able to straighten out paperwork with the help of caseworkers. In 2005, officials assigned all such work to a single employee, available two hours a week. The area’s TANF caseload fell by half in a year.

Because of the recession, many Americans turn to the safety net of government assistance programs such as food stamps, unemployment benefits, or welfare. In an effort to discourage applicants, lawmakers in at least eight states want recipients to submit to random drug testing.

In March 2009, the Kansas House of Representatives approved a measure that mandates drug testing for the 14,000 people getting cash assistance from the state.  In February, the Oklahoma Senate unanimously passed a measure that would require drug testing as a condition of receiving TANF benefits. Similar bills have been introduced in Missouri and Hawaii. A member of Minnesota’s House of Representatives has a bill requiring drug tests of people who get public assistance under a state program there.

During the Clinton era of welfare reform, states were given a fixed amount of money regardless of need.  The TANF block grant was a $16.5 billion grant in which Georgia share alone was $370 million a year. States could divert the funds to any program vaguely related to serving the needy.  Since states receive the same amount of federal funds regardless of how many people received assistance, states were encouraged to deny benefits.  “Even if caseloads go to zero, they get the same amount of money,” notes Robert Welsh of the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute.

States have used the surplus TANF money to expand childcare, job training, and transportation to help recipients find jobs. The Government Accountability Office found in 2006 that many states were moving federal welfare funds away from cash assistance to the poor, or even “work supports” like childcare, to plug holes in state budgets.

TANF is a gateway to education, drug rehabilitation, mental health care, child care, even transportation and disability benefits—tools for upward mobility.
“Welfare is the only cash safety-net program for single moms and their kids,” notes Rebecca Blank, an economist at the Brookings Institution, “One has to worry, with a recession, about the number of women who, if they get unemployed, are not going to have anywhere to turn.”

  • mram50 June 23, 2010

    This is nothing surprising even though it is disgusting.
    I live in Irving Texas where they are constantly crying about local budget shortfalls in a city where none other than Exxon Mobile is headquartered and on the streets here you will find giant bronze statues of horses bought and paid for by tax payers and though they have plenty of money for pretty decorations they have not a cent to help out a poor person,

  • DBMAN July 6, 2010

    I like the part where you don’t site any of your sources. YEAH FOR FAUX NEWS!

  • mram50 August 16, 2010

    U now need sources to tell you that Irving has bronze statues all over town? Well, they do, but poor people on town are encouraged to move elsewhere usually because all available housing has been condemned and bulldozed so there IS no low income housing available.

  • Pat Killebrew October 23, 2010

    This is definitely one of the best articles I have found on this subject. I would like to know if you have you though about the opposite side of the topic of natural health? Personally, I think a solid case could be made either way, but please let me know if you know of more articles or sources on the Internet that back up what you are proposing.

  • L Thomas March 30, 2011

    I like the idea that Florida has to cut it’s caseload. We could use something like this in good ole welfare state o california

  • Josh March 31, 2011

    Random drug testing for those receiving welfare, now that is a Brilliant idea. Those of us working are subjected to random drug tests to earn the money given to those who get the money for free! If you wan my hard earned money to support yourself, for whatever the reason might be: and YE there are those who truly do need the assistance, then you should be subjected to th same random drug testing those of us earning the money to pay you are! What do recipients have to fear? Unless they are on drugs there is nothing! If they are on drugs, then odds are pretty good that the are spending a good percentage of the TANF money on them! Those failing the drug tests should be mandated drug rehab and education if they want to keep their free money coming.

  • JR April 10, 2011

    Welfare is not free!! There are many hoops that US receiving welfare have to jump through everyday just to maintain what little monies we do receive. WE are told that we can have an education but it is one that is chosen by the state, we have to have high GPAs, only can accomplish a certificate program not a degree, our children are forced to spend long hours in daycare facilities while WE volunteer 20hrs per week and go to school for finish our education. We are to be “grateful” for our Public Housing where we here guns going off every night, where our homes fall apart cause not one fixes them, where our rent increases even though our income does not, NOW how is drug testing an individual at random similar to drug testing an employee. WE are not employees of the state, we are on WELFARE government run programs because we need help and those programs were put into place to help with such needs. ONE DAY this could happen to you and those programs will be gone, then YOU will see just how serious things are going to get. This stereotypical idea that ALL individuals on welfare are drug addicted is insane, WE go through a lot just to take care of our families, and WE deserve the same chance to better our lives as those who can personally fund their own.

  • get2rhino April 10, 2011

    I am disabled and have received welfare for most of my lifetime and it stinks, has always stunk and is getting worse all the time. I have said for years that all they would have to do to reduce the welfare rolls by at least 60% is to require drug testing. But all those things in the article have happened to us. We’ve had our family destroyed by child protection over a 10 yr. period at a cost of 8 million taxpayer dollars, as a result of having applied for food stamps in the poorest county in California. They sued us for child support, and when I finally was granted disability benefits SSA took away a large part of my back pay because we were receiving TANF. We were lucky to be able to escape California with most of our children and our lives, but we’re broken now. And all the kings horses and all the king’s men have no desire whatsoever to put us together again. But it’s a brilliant idea to reduce the number of poor people by killing them through carelessness and ineptitude. But this is the first time I heard that the states will get their share of federally allocated money by just saying they are using it in some way vaguely related to helping the poor. It now makes sense to me after a decade of suffering and watching helplessly as my kids were jerked in and out of foster care for over half a decade and subjected to psychological warfare techniques. I imagine I will eventually commit suicide, I talk about it enough. Glad to be able to reduce the surplus population at contribute something. Why even act like there is help for those who need it why not just cancel welfare and start jailing poor people for the crimes we would have to commit to survive? At least they’d make some money off of incarcerating us. Entitlement programs indeed. Humbug. Welfare is not free and neither are we.

  • Ngoc Fishback April 10, 2011

    Well, her style is a bit freeky, but it’s hard to deny her talent.

  • Pepe Snead August 12, 2011

    Most of these cutbacks were before the 2008 meltdown. I guess people knew the government was overextended even back then.

  • Pepe Snead August 12, 2011

    Most of these cutbacks were before the 2008 meltdown. I guess people knew the government was overextended even back then.