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StarBulletin.com

Welfare requests 'alarming,' groups say


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POSTED: Monday, February 02, 2009

Aloha United Way's 211 information and referral service had 40,000 calls the past year—a 38 percent increase from the last quarter of 2007.

“;It's a clear picture of what's going on,”; AUW executive Norm Baker said Friday.

He cited a 66 percent increase in requests for emergency food assistance; 63 percent for rent; 26 percent for health care, especially for children; and an 86 percent increase in requests for mental health services.

Baker and other nonprofit agency representatives, students and members of the Legislature's Keiki Caucus described a host of key issues and legislation they are supporting this session to benefit families, youth and children.

The measures range from funding support for organizations that work with children and families to mandatory recycling in schools, bullying and cyberbullying, and medical tort reform.

Baker noted an “;alarming”; increase in requests for welfare, including a 293 percent jump in requests for the WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program.

He said the 24-hour call service had not seen a big increase in requests for housing and rent subsidies, but it is anticipated: “;Soon we will have a lot more homeless.”;

Howard Garval, chief executive officer of Child and Family Service, said it used to see “;ups and downs,”; but now there is a steady increase in domestic violence victims and homeless asking to go to the abuse shelter.

Healthy Start director Gail Breakey emphasized the costly results of the administration's action in dropping the program's general funding—$9.3 million per year—from the state budget.

Healthy Start, observing its 25th year, helps to prevent child abuse and neglect by connecting with families after a birth and providing support services.

Liz Chun, with Good Beginnings Alliance, said that while new programs cannot be started, it is important to maintain the foundation of programs that have taken years to build.

The Legislature's human services committee leaders, Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland (D, Sand Island-Kalihi-Liliha-Nuuanu-Pauoa-Puunui) and Rep. John Mizuno (D, Kamehameha Heights-Kalihi Valley-Fort Shafter), convened the session. Students asked for more counseling services in schools, and Jonathan Allen, the Board of Education student representative, is seeking voting rights.

“;For 21 years we haven't been granted these rights (as board members),”; he said. “;We're on the Obama bandwagon. This is a year of change to fight for those rights.”;

Sen. Gary Hooser (D, Kauai-Niihau) said when he told a friend he was working on a food stamp bill, the response was, “;It's not real sexy,”; but he is excited about the potential results. His bill (Senate Bill 1668) would make it easier for more people to apply for food stamps, he said.

“;If we could get just 90 percent of (qualified) people to get food stamps, it would bring in $45 million of federal money, and it doesn't cost the state a dime,”; he said.