Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Welfare Rolls See First Climb in Years

By Amy Goldstein
Washington Post

For the first time since welfare was redefined a dozen years ago, weaning millions of poor Americans from monthly government checks, the deteriorating economy is causing a surge in welfare rolls in a growing number of states.

The swelling caseloads pose the first hard test of the premise behind transforming the old system of welfare, once considered an open-ended right, into a finite program built to provide short-term cash assistance and steer people quickly into jobs.

Though still a fraction of the size they were at their height in the mid-1990s, welfare rolls recently have begun to climb again in at least a dozen states, according to interviews with state officials. In other states, applications are rising, foreshadowing more people on welfare soon. The trend has spread across the District, Maryland and Virginia.

More striking is who is coming onto welfare and why. Here in Florida, as elsewhere, the new face of welfare includes people who have tumbled from the middle class -- and higher -- after losing jobs, savings and self-reliance. And some are returning to welfare years after they thought they had found permanent work and independence.

Many people coming onto welfare "shouldn't be receiving assistance if there [were] jobs out there," said Kevin McGuire, the Maryland Department of Human Resources' executive director of family investment. "The problem is, what we are seeing here is something that looks more like 1936 than 1996."

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