Idaho second in cutting welfare rolls

The National Center for Policy Analysis puts Wyoming first and Idaho second in the nation for reducing welfare rolls.

The number of welfare recipients nationwide has fallen 60 percent since welfare reform was enacted in 1996. Wyoming´s number of welfare recipients fell 95 percent between 1993 and 2001, according to the group.

The Idaho Statesman

Idaho´s rolls were down 89 percent, followed by Wisconsin and Florida at 82 percent. Nevada had the smallest decrease at just 27 percent.

“We´ve known our numbers were good,” said Tony Lewis, deputy director of the Wyoming Department of Family Services.

“In the last couple of years we´ve been working on improving our performance and getting people the skills they need from our TANF program.”

The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program has replaced welfare for many people in both Wyoming and Idaho. Federal law allows states to design and direct their own TANF programs.

Former Idaho Gov. Phil Batt directed the state´s welfare reform program to emphasize moving people into work or training so that public assistance became a safety net used to protect families during their worst economic trials.

But critics of the state´s reform efforts contend its two-year lifetime maximum for welfare support — one of the shortest in the nation — has driven many people who need the assistance to their families, private organizations or into the streets because they fear using up their entitlement before it is absolutely necessary.

In Wyoming, state officials began developing a system that led to training and work well before the federal mandate, Lewis said.

He said the department is working to ensure that the reduction in Wyoming´s number of welfare recipients is not the result of programs being inaccessible to them.

Kathy Lynn, director of the local non-profit group Needs Inc., said some people who are no longer getting welfare may be going to organizations like hers, as they are in Idaho.

Needs provides short-term emergency services, tutoring and help obtaining food, prescriptions, clothing, household items and furniture.

Lynn said there has been a tremendous increase over the past few months in the number of people seeking help from the organization. She believes part of the problem may be that military deployment is forcing parents to quit their jobs to care for their children.

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