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DECEMBER 2, 1998   3:07 PM
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: Children's Defense Fund
Sarah Howe of Children's Defense Fund, 202-662-3609
 
CDF and National Coalition for Homeless: After Welfare, Many Families Are Worse
 
WASHINGTON - December 2 - The Children's Defense Fund and the National Coalition for the Homeless today released a joint report showing that despite drops in welfare caseloads across the country, up to half of the families leaving welfare rolls don't have jobs. Among recipients who do find jobs, 71 percent earn less than $250 per week, less than the poverty level for a family of three.

The report, Welfare to What: Early Findings on Family Hardship and Well-Being, is a compilation of over 30 state and local studies, plus recent local findings, and a new analysis of the latest national Census Bureau data. It is the most comprehensive look to date at the well-being of the over 3.8 million parents and children leaving welfare since the signing of the 1996 welfare law.

"We must face the fact that families with extremely low wages do not earn enough to raise their children out of poverty. Without help like child care, transportation, training, and wage supplements, families are one crisis away from joblessness or hunger," said CDF Family Income Division Director Deborah Weinstein.

According to Mary Ann Gleason, Executive Director of the National Coalition for the Homeless, "Families moving from welfare to unstable and inadequately paid jobs need far more support if they are to succeed. States also must stop driving families off the rolls when there are no jobs available for them.

These measures will become all the more urgent when federal time limits and the next economic recession take hold." Gleason added, "In many cities, easily one in 10 families in homeless shelters say they are there because of welfare cuts."

The report finds that

  • Many families leaving welfare report struggling to get food, shelter, or needed medical care. South Carolina found that these hardships increased significantly after families left welfare. Even when former recipients found jobs they had significantly more problems buying food than before, an indication of their very low wages.
  • Many families who leave welfare are losing income or not finding steady jobs at all. In Wisconsin's lauded 1996 welfare experiment, for example, nearly two out of three former recipients had lower income after they left the welfare rolls, researchers found.
  • Extreme poverty is growing more common for children, especially those in female-headed and working families. The number of children living in families earning below one-half of the poverty line($6,401 a year for a 3-person family) increased by 400,000 nationwide in 1997, despite strong economic growth.
  • Many families are not getting the basic help they need to find and keep jobs such as child care, transportation, food stamps, medical coverage, and housing. Further, many families are being inappropriately pushed off the rolls. In Utah, half of families cutoff from welfare had barriers that under state policy should have been identified and addressed but were not, according to a retired state welfare administrator. One mother who was cut off for not participating in welfare to work activities reported she could not participate because she had back problems, no transportation, and her4-year-old son had neurofibromatosis.

However, the report finds that some states and communities have created innovative and supportive programs to help families find stable above-poverty employment. These include:

  • A Rhode Island program that provides child care help for all families with incomes up to 185 percent of the federal poverty line;
  • An Illinois policy that reduces but does not eliminate cash assistance to recipients who work at very low wages;
  • An Ohio program that locates child care at convenient transportation hubs; and
  • A California program that provides access to community colleges for job training.

"Why can't other states replicate these programs? They work,"said CDF's Weinstein.

The report outlines a series of federal, state and community recommendations, including:

  • Allowing education and training to count towards the work requirement;
  • Giving states the flexibility to use federal welfare funds to pay partial benefits when families work at least half-time, without those months counting towards the family's time limit;
  • Investing more federal and state funds in child care;
  • Investing in more federal housing subsidies, to address the housing needs of a record 5.3 million households who pay more than half their incomes for rent and/or live in substandard housing.

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The mission of the Children's Defense Fund is to Leave No Child Behind and to ensure every child a Healthy Start, a Head Start, a Fair Start, a Safe Start, and a Moral Start in life and successful passage to adulthood with the help of caring families and communities.

The National Coalition for the Homeless is a national advocacy network of homeless people, activists, service providers, and others committed to ending homelessness.

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