States face new restrictions on welfare funding
Hawaii will have to do a better job of making sure welfare recipients are actually participating in work activities or lose some federal funding under new federal regulations.
The new monitoring requirement and other changes to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program were announced yesterday by the Bush administration.
States will have to put in place a verification system that uses documents such as pay stubs to document work, and submit the plans to the federal government by Sept. 30. Penalties for failing to verify that recipients actually participated in work could begin as early as Oct. 1, 2007.
The U.S. Health and Human Services Department is also clarifying definitions for 12 categories of activity considered to qualify as work, to ensure consistency among states.
State Human Services Director Lillian Koller said the changes also mean state welfare departments will have to work harder to identify spending that counts toward federal matching funds of $98.9 million.
The state needs to spend about $71 million a year on services for working families to get the full matching federal funds, Koller said.
The rule changes disqualify some current spending but might allow for other spending, she said.
For example, literacy efforts funded by private charities could count if they could be shown to help eligible welfare recipients, and if the charities could track their spending for the state, Koller said.
Another change might affect the Bridge to Hope program at University of Hawaii campuses, which helps welfare recipients going to school meet work requirements, Koller said.
The new rules require all education programs to be directly related to getting a job, and add to the number of work hours required of students receiving welfare, Koller said.
In anticipation of the changes, the Legislature added $3 million for programs to help welfare recipients find work, Koller noted.
She said she and other staff members would travel to Washington, D.C., next month to learn about the changes and how the state can meet the new requirements.
"We don't want to cut anything," Koller said. "We see this as expansion. ... The key is to have more success to help families in poverty get into the work force."
Koller noted that Hawaii had received bonuses from the federal government for its efforts to get people off welfare.
About 10,642 families in Hawaii receive welfare money each month, compared with an average of 22,333 families a month in 1997.
Changes to the welfare program in 1996 set a five-year limit on how long people could obtain cash assistance. States are also supposed to have at least half of their welfare recipients in approved activities, or face cuts in funding of up to 5 percent.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.