- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 25, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

The welfare state is bigger than ever despite a decade of policies designed to wean poor people from public aid.

The number of families receiving cash benefits from welfare has plummeted since the government imposed time limits on the payments a decade ago. But other programs for the poor — including Medicaid, food stamps and disability benefits — are bursting with new enrollees.

The result, according to an Associated Press analysis, is that nearly one in six persons rely on some form of public assistance, a larger share than at any time since the government started measuring two decades ago.

In the early 1990s, critics contended that the welfare system encouraged unemployment and promoted single-parent families. Welfare recipients, mostly single mothers, could lose benefits if they earned too much money or if they lived with the father of their children.

Major changes in welfare were enacted in 1996, requiring most recipients to work but allowing them to continue some benefits after they started jobs. The law imposed a five-year limit on cash payments for most people in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, or TANF. Some states have shorter time limits.

In 2005, about 5.1 million people received monthly welfare payments from TANF and similar state programs, a 60 percent drop from a decade before. But other government programs grew, offsetting the declines.

About 44 million people relied on government services for the poor in 2003, according to the most recent statistics compiled by the Census Bureau. That compares with about 39 million in 1996.

Also, the number of people getting government aid continues to increase, according to more recent enrollment figures from individual programs. Medicaid rolls alone topped 45 million people in 2005, pushed up in part by rising health care costs and fewer employers’ offering benefits. Nearly 26 million people a month received food stamps that year.

Cash welfare recipients, by comparison, peaked at 14.2 million people in 1994.

Critics of the welfare overhaul say the numbers offer fresh evidence that few former recipients have become self-sufficient, even though millions have moved from welfare to work. They say the vast majority have been forced into low-paying jobs without benefits and few opportunities to advance.

“If the goal of welfare reform was to get people off the welfare rolls, bravo,” said Vivyan Adair, a former welfare recipient who is now an assistant professor of women’s studies at Hamilton College in upstate New York. “If the goal was to reduce poverty and give people economic and job stability, it was not a success.”


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