get a welfare break
A state agency will extendBy Lori Tighe
their must-work deadline by
a year, in some cases
Officials and agencies fighting domestic violence are cheering a state decision to temporarily exempt victimized welfare recipients from working if it endangers their safety.
Under new rules, brutalized spouses who receive welfare can extend their deadline to find a job by a year.
"It's very important," said Nanci Kreidman, executive director of Domestic Violence Clearinghouse and Legal Hotline. "We have experienced a degree of sensitivity and willingness by DHS (Department of Human Services) that deserves to be applauded."
Hawaii, like the rest of the nation, feels enormous pressure to move recipients into jobs.
"That terrified us. It's not that easy for women trapped in violence to move away without support," Kreidman said.
In domestic-violence situations, the abuser often views the victim working as a threat to his control. He will stalk her on the job, keep her up all night so she can't work or call her constantly at work, Kreidman said.
The extra year gives victims more time to gain independence without losing welfare income, she said.
More than 49,000 women between age 18 and 64 were victims of domestic violence as of May 1993, according to the most recent statistics from the Hawaii State Commission on the Status of Women.
"The unique thing about Hawaii's law is the level of cooperation and sensitivity we received from DHS," said Carol Lee, executive director of Hawaii State Coalition Against Domestic Violence.
"They've made it safe for battered women to disclose the abuse."
Hawaii joins 31 other U.S. states who have waived work requirements for domestic-violence victims on welfare, said Rebecca Brown, welfare reform specialist at the National Governors' Association in Washington, D.C.
California and Arizona recently asked to see Hawaii's legislation and may use it as a model, said Kris Foster, in charge of Hawaii's welfare reform.
"We have a very significant, innovative law," Foster said. "It shows we're willing to do something about the problem."
Some Hawaii legislators feared the exemption would cost too much money, said Kreidman.
"That fear shouldn't penalize victims of domestic violence. It's very easy as a community to minimize domestic violence. They assume all you need is guts to pull yourself together."
Not every domestic-violence victim on welfare will need the exemption, Kreidman added, only those whose safety is worsened by holding a job.
And victims must show proof of domestic violence through court, hospital or police records. If they can't provide proof for some reason, a domestic-violence agency will review their situation and make a recommendation.
The law provides for every welfare recipient to receive notice about the exemption. The state's welfare staff also will be trained to recognize victims of domestic violence.
In truth, the state didn't need much convincing to pass the law, Foster said.
"We really didn't have to fight it. The state has become very aware this is a real problem," she said. "In order to become self-sufficient, victims have to be safe first."