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StarBulletin.com

State welfare payouts drop as numbers of needy grow


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POSTED: Sunday, November 08, 2009

Right when more people need welfare, they're getting less from Hawaii's government.

Monthly payments to poor, temporarily disabled people fell by one-third last week, from $450 to $300, because more people are drawing benefits from the same pool of money.

State lawmakers questioned how government could shortchange these 5,055 people when they may have no other income.

“;That money won't cover the rent anymore, so many of them will go homeless,”; said Sen. Suzanne Chun Oakland (D, Kalihi-Liliha) at a hearing last week.

This money, called general assistance, goes to people without dependent children who are unable to work because of a temporary disability. To qualify, they must have little or no income and can't get other federal assistance.

“;What will happen in our Aloha State to those who are most needy?”; asked Alex Santiago, executive director of a group of nonprofits called PHOCUSED, which stands for Protecting Hawaii's Ohana, Children, Underserved, Elderly and Disabled. “;This is their last hope. There has to be an alternative.”;

Legislators suggested using money saved in the state's Rainy Day Fund to restore the payments to their previous levels. The latest figures show there's about $60 million in the fund, which is paid into by tobacco lawsuit settlement money.

Lawmakers budgeted about $21 million for general assistance, but that money wouldn't last for the remainder of the fiscal year unless the payments were decreased, according to the Department of Human Services. The number of people in the program has risen from 3,955 in 2007 to 4,458 last year and just over 5,000 currently.

“;This is the bare necessity for some people to exist,”; said Debbie Shimizu, executive director for the National Association of Social Workers Hawaii. “;Rather than cut it, the state needs to look at keeping them at the level they used to be at.”;