Tuesday, November 16, 1999

Hawaii State Seal

Moving welfare
recipients discussed

The idea is to pay them to
relocate to the mainland where
they can find jobs

By Lori Tighe


First Hawaii shipped its prisoners to the mainland, but now its welfare recipients?

Hawaii is not, repeat not, flying its welfare recipients to the mainland for jobs, insisted state officials yesterday.

But they're talking about it.

Gov. Ben Cayetano was hit by media calls yesterday after word spread that he and Human Services Director Susan Chandler discussed the idea of paying for welfare recipients to relocate for jobs on the mainland.

"We really don't have anything to announce at this point," said Cayetano's spokeswoman, Kathleen Racuya-Markrich. "All the details are not ironed out. It's under discussion, but he is open to it."

A proposal to allow Human Services to pay recipients a lump sum of benefits to help them get to a job, even as far away as the mainland, was forwarded to the state Legislature for consideration, said Kris Foster, in charge of the state's welfare reform program.

But Foster insists, "We're not shipping people away.

"It's 100 percent voluntary. If we can give you a lump sum payment to get you situated on the mainland we will do that. But we wouldn't allow you to go unless you have a guaranteed position," she said.

Human Services is also thinking of bringing mainland employers here to interview welfare recipients for jobs. "They have a labor shortage and we have a labor surplus," Foster said. "It makes sense."

Other ideas include helping welfare recipients buy vehicles to get to a job, and to relocate them inter-island for jobs.

"It's not a cash giveaway, it has to be tied to a job," said Kate Stanley, deputy director for Human Services.

Director Susan Chandler is off-island and couldn't be reached for comment.

"We're not going to pay for people to go island hopping," Stanley added. If the Legislature approves, the state could help welfare recipients relocate to a job as soon as June, 2000.

"The hope is you would become independent and never need welfare again," Foster said.

Any lump sum the state gives a recipient would be deducted from their five-year maximum limit of welfare payments.

For example, if a recipient landed a job in Texas, Hawaii could give them several months worth of welfare payments at once to help them move.

But if the job didn't work out, the person couldn't turn around and hop back on Hawaii's welfare system, Foster said.

"I have some questions," said Ruby Hargrave, executive director of Honolulu Community Action Program.

"What if they get there and lose their job? Then what happens? How do they get back home?" he said.

Their family support is probably here, and they need all the support they can get, Hargrave said. "We have to think about this some more," Hargrave said.

But thinking about it is all the state is doing right now, Stanley said. "This is just a proposal," she stressed. "This is new territory for us. We're not big on flexibility. But we want people who need the help, to get it."

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