Saturday, October 13, 2001

State of Big Isle welfare
concerns officials

By Rod Thompson

HILO >> One-third of state welfare recipients whose lifetime benefits run out Nov. 30 are in Hawaii County, Department of Human Services head Susan Chandler told Big Island social service workers yesterday.

To the welfare recipients themselves, she said: "Get a job. I don't care if it's digging ditches. Get a job."

In 1996, the federal government put a five-year limit per person on federally funded benefits.

Hawaii Island Economic Opportunity Council administrator George Yokoyama pleaded with Chandler: "Give me six months of state money. Help me out." Chandler has said there would be no such money.

By last count, there were 818 families in Hawaii scheduled to lose benefits after Nov. 30. Of those, 281 are on the Big Island. On average a family of one adult and two children receives $483 a month in federal assistance, and only financial assistance benefits are time-limited.

Most families on welfare have found some work, just not enough to get off welfare, state officials have said.

On the Big Island, 170 have some form of employment. Those working at least 32 hours a week can receive supplemental payments of $200 per month for 24 months after their five years is up, Chandler said.

One lesson the Department of Human Services learned from the Big Island, with its big spaces, is that people need a car to work. Statewide, the department now no longer subtracts benefits based on the value of a person's car, Chandler said.

She said skeptics then challenge her: "You mean they're going to be driving their Mercedes to the food stamp office?" With the average pay of welfare recipients at $7.50 per hour, they're not likely to own a Mercedes, Chandler said.

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