Friday, May 4, 2001

Hawaii State Seal

Latest welfare
cuts start this year

After nearly 5 years of financial
aid, just 7 months remain for
1,021 isle families

By B.J. Reyes

A disproportionate number of Hawaii families that are expected to lose their welfare money this year live on the Big Island.

There are 1,021 families scheduled to be dropped from federal welfare roles beginning Dec. 1. Of these, 346 are on the Big Island, 552 on Oahu, 68 on Maui and 55 on Kauai, said Kris Foster, an administrator with the state Human Services Department.

Foster was at a loss to explain the disparity.

"They just have a very low labor market or high unemployment rate," she said. "The only direct link we've ever found between the number of people requesting welfare is the unemployment rate: Every time the unemployment rate goes up, our enrollment increases."

Welfare for many
families ending Dec. 1

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 established a five-year time limit and imposed some work requirements on families receiving welfare. On Dec. 1 the first families in Hawaii will reach their time limit and will be dropped from the program. There are 1,021 households scheduled to lose their time-limited financial assistance. A breakdown by island:

>> Oahu: 552
>> Big Island: 346
>> Maui: 68
>> Kauai: 55

Source: State Department of Human Services

Welfare reform acts adopted in 1996 require federal and state governments to halt payments to welfare families after five years. On Dec. 1 the first families in Hawaii will reach their time limit and will be dropped from the program.

Over the past year, the Human Services Department has reduced the number of families scheduled to be dropped by about 2,000 by providing assistance while they found steady employment, Foster said.

"Most people did exactly what they should have," she said. "But you have this small group that I really feel never believed that this time would come."

On average a family of one adult and two children receives $483 a month in federal assistance, Foster said.

She added that only financial assistance benefits are time-limited.

Families enrolled in food stamp, child-care or medical programs will continue to receive benefits.

An estimated 100,000 households in Hawaii receive some sort of financial assistance, she said.

"The hard part is, we're always a last-resort program," she said. Once the agency is out of the picture, "there's no one there to pick up the ball."

DHS has sent out monthly notices to families and expects to increase the frequency of mailings as the deadline gets closer.

Among the programs that help welfare recipients find gainful employment is DHS's Grant Plus program, which provides up to $650 per month to assist nonprofit organizations in employing welfare recipients.

The Bridge to Hope program, administered by the Center for Labor Education and Research at the University of Hawaii's West Oahu campus, has also helped people get off welfare rolls.

The pilot program, initiated a year ago, relaxes some of the work requirements on welfare recipients who are enrolled as full-time students, said Teresa Bill, a specialist at the research center.

Able-bodied welfare recipients are required to work 32 hours per week in order to receive benefits.

The program allows recipients to attend school in lieu of some of those hours and also helps them to find work within their field of study to satisfy the requirements.

"We bridge the kind of problems that students have trying to fulfill the requirements for (the Department of Human Services) and school," Bill said.

The program is offered at all 11 campuses in the UH system.

"Our emphasis," Bill said, "is helping welfare recipients return to school with the expectation that education is the most assured means for them to achieve lifelong self-sufficiency."

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