For the week of January 6, 1999   thru January 12, 1999  

Welfare reform enjoys success

Express Staff Writer

A welfare-reform program intended to get recipients back to work has resulted in a dramatic drop in the number of people on the welfare rolls in southern Idaho.

Welfare reform was initiated by the federal government as of July 1, 1997, when the new Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program replaced the old Aid For Families with Dependent Children. Under AFDC, families could remain on welfare for as long as their youngest child qualified. Under the temporary assistance program, the government set a five-year limit on any family’s receipt of welfare.

States can allocate federal welfare money among benefit payments, child care and work training. The Idaho Legislature decided to spend a portion of its money on a job-training program, called the Self Reliance Program. Consequently, it decided to set an even more restrictive timetable than the federal government’s, and allowed a family to receive welfare payments for only two years, beginning July 1, 1997.

According to state Department of Welfare statistics, the program has paid off.

Prior to the reform program, 1,000 families in the department’s Region Five, which includes Blaine County, were on Idaho’s cash welfare program, called Temporary Assistance for Families in Idaho. That number has been reduced to 128.

In Blaine County, there were 69 assistance recipients prior to initiation of the welfare-reform program. Since the reform, that number has been reduced to only one.

Bill Walker, spokesman for the Department of Health and Welfare, attributes the significant decline of cash assistance recipients in Blaine County to the strong economy that exists in this area.

Patty Brown is the Self-Reliance Program manager for Region Five, which is made up of eight southern Idaho counties. When talking about the welfare-reform program, Brown stressed the word temporary.

She said that since the two-year limit went into effect, most of the Region Five temporary assistance recipients leave the program after four or five months. She said that would indicate that the welfare system is returning to what it was originally designed to be—temporary help for families in short-term crisis.

Brown said the Self-Reliance Program began training recipients in January 1996. The goal of the program is to give people the opportunity to make themselves work-ready by providing them with job training, employment sources, resume writing assistance and child care.

"We don’t want hundreds of families dependent on public assistance," Brown said. "We want to provide them with the opportunity and resources to take care of themselves, to help in temporary times of crisis to help get them back on their feet."


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