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Workforce agency, independent report evaluate Utah’s welfare system reform

By Sun Advocate

In 1996, federally enacted reform legislation significantly changed the welfare system in the United States and Utah.
The Utah Foundation and the state’s workforce services department recently compiled data and released separate reports evaluation the effects of the reform legislation.
The primary purpose of welfare reform focuses on providing individuals with guidance and promoting a transition to employment, pointed out the Utah Department of Workforce Services in the agency’s latest Trendlines publication.
Based on the public policy initiatives, Utah’s family employment program has developed strategies for the delivery of services to needy households in Utah, continued workforce services
In order to qualify for the public assistance program, applicants must meet established income as well as asset criteria and have a dependent children younger than 18 years of age.
The federally established temporary assistance to needy families guidelines require a five-year lifetime limit, explained the department of workforce services.
But Utah has set a three-year limit on households receiving public assistance benefits.
Qualifying individuals receive a comprehensive assessment to address barriers to employment and have access to a hearing process.
In addition, the families must occupy a position in the labor force or participate in work preparation activities.
Utah has established extensions to the time limit process in order to accommodate families who need additional time to resolve barriers to employment such as disabilities.
The department of workforce services administers the family employment program in Utah. The federal government’s temporary assistance to needy families program funds the state’s FEP services.
The state’s workforce department provides services to encourage employment and self-sufficiency for public assistance recipients at locations across Utah.
FEP families receive employment planning, referrals, labor market information, training, job development and personal skills training.
Programs are also available to help with food assistance, child care and medical services.
Utah’s welfare reform has helped many families and individuals become economically independent.
But the current recession has increased demand for the services.
Highlighting the state program, workforce services indicated that a single mother with two children receives a monthly cash assistance of $474. Since 1997, Utah has watched the number of families receiving financial assistance drop from 12,864 households to 8,189 cases in 2001.
The average length of time for a family to remain on the family employment program ranges from 17 to 27 months.
New applications represent 24 percent and returning clients account for 26 percent of the state’s total number of FEP cases – 8,400, according to the Utah Department of Workforce Services.
In the wake of welfare reform, cash assistance rolls in the state have declined, pointed out the Utah Foundation. However, the demand for other types of assistance has climbed.
The key highlights of the independent research organiza-tion’s report cataloging welfare benefits in the state since the implementation of federal reform guidelines include:
•During 1999, 1.4 percent of Utah households received temporary assistance to needy families, compared to 2.6 percent nationally.
The number of households in the state qualifying for the public assistance program ranks Utah 36th in the nation.
•The value of food stamps has declined in Utah since 1996.
In 2001, the average monthly benefit was worth, in inflation-adjusted terms, $69.86 compared to $73.50 in 1997.
•Utah ranks 25th in the nation for the percent of school age children qualifying for reduced price or free lunch.
Utah is one of the top 10 fastest growing states for the reduced price or free lunch benefit.
•Utah’s two-tiered Medicaid system has higher monthly income limits for temporary assistance for needy families participants than for poor residents who are not receiving TANF.
The situation creates a barrier to the non-TANF poor population seeking assistance with medical expenses, indicated the Utah Foundation report.
•Non-profit, non-religiously affiliated charitable organizations in Utah have experienced increasing demands for services since the inception of welfare reform.
In addition, the foundation report quantified the monetary value of welfare benefits and what hourly wage level would be necessary to replace the public assistance and benefits. For an individual receiving the average bundle of welfare benefits, the monthly value registers at approximately $736. For a person qualifying for all available federal programs, the value climbs to $1,697 a month.
“Perhaps the most concerning aspect of welfare reform is, with block grant funding, demand for services outstrips supply,” noted foundation analyst Janice Houston.
“For example, in Utah during fiscal year 1999, only 15 percent of TANF recipients also received federal subsidized housing benefits and the length of time a person waited for a subsidized rental also increased,” explained Houston.
For Utahns qualifying for the benefit, housing subsidies contribute an average of $456 a month to the TANF recipients’ budgets. Housing constitutes the second largest contributor to the difference between the monthly values, behind child care subsidies.
Finally, the foundation report compared the purchasing power of minimum wage and the average hourly wage in Utah to the federal poverty level.
The evaluation determined that, in most years since 1974, the average Utah worker supporting a family of three earned less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level. The financial situation enabled the average worker’s family to qualify for some type of government assistance, concluded the Utah Foundation report.

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