Welfare slow in responding to recession

The New York Times reports that state welfare programs are not keeping up with the increasing demands created by the increasing unemployment and the worst economic downturn in decades. The paper says that “18 states cut their welfare rolls last year, and nationally the number of people receiving cash assistance remained at or near the lowest in more than 40 years.”

Meanwhile churches are responding both in terms of direct service and advocating for people in deep poverty.

According to The Times,

Michigan cut its welfare rolls 13 percent, though it was one of two states whose October unemployment rate topped 9 percent. Rhode Island, the other, had the nation’s largest welfare decline, 17 percent.

Of the 12 states where joblessness grew most rapidly, eight reduced or kept constant the number of people receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the main cash welfare program for families with children. Nationally, for the 12 months ending October 2008, the rolls inched up a fraction of 1 percent.

The deepening recession offers a fresh challenge to the program, which was passed by a Republican Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996 amid bitter protest and became one of the most closely watched social experiments in modern memory.

The program, which mostly serves single mothers, ended a 60-year-old entitlement to cash aid, replacing it with time limits and work requirements, and giving states latitude to discourage people from joining the welfare rolls. While it was widely praised in the boom years that followed, skeptics warned it would fail the needy when times turned tough.

An editorial in America advocates a stimulus package that would create both jobs and the protections that poor people need as shields against hunger, homelessness and lack of health care.

The new administration’s projected $825 billion stimulus package should create jobs not only in traditional ways, like infrastructure improvements on roads, bridges and school construction. It should also focus on offsetting the sharp rise in hunger and homelessness among the nation’s rapidly growing number of poor people.

Already, low-income advocates predict that people in deep poverty, that is, those with incomes of less than half the poverty line of $21,200 for a family of four, will increase by between five and six million if unemployment reaches 9 percent. Barbara Sard, a policy analyst at the nonprofit Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, has said that such an increase would put as many as a million families at risk of housing instability and homelessness. Even those not yet in deep poverty could face homelessness because of home foreclosures that have already pushed many into the rental market, which, because of competition for affordable rental housing, has experienced an increased demand that in turn has caused rents to rise.

Read The New York Times: Welfare Aid Isn’t Growing as Economy Drops Off

Read the America editorial Shelter, Food and the Stimulus here.

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