Welfare That Doesn't Work

Governor Symington has spoken of helping needy kids and improving the welfare system. His welfare agency, the Department of Economic Security, is famous for astonishing incompetence and children who die.

According to the Children's Action Alliance, total state funds available for child-care subsidies also will be reduced--by $874,000.

These types of cuts run counter to the Republican emphasis on moving and keeping people off the dole.

For example, a recent DES survey asked clients what they would do if they stopped receiving child-care subsidies. Almost 20percent responded that they would request public assistance.

As Carol Kamin says, "They're cutting the very services that help keep families out of the system and keep kids alive--you know, family preservation, child-care subsidies, adoption subsidies."

DES has not requested funding in its budget to reduce the waiting list for home-based community services for the elderly or the developmentally disabled--another program aimed at reducing the cost of welfare. In fact, DES did not spend a million dollars appropriated during the past legislative session to serve clients on the developmentally disabled waiting list.

According to the DES budget request for the coming year, that million dollars had to be saved to fund mandatory programs in next year's budget.

State Representative Laura Knaperak, who fought for that appropriation, is furious.

"To some people, I sound like a flaming liberal, which doesn't give me a lot of Brownie points when I try to deal on other issues," Knaperak says. "So I stuck my neck out to do this, and then they don't fund it."

Now, Knaperak says, she'll hesitate before she asks for more money for DES.
"Quite frankly, I would have a very difficult time giving them more money. When you give them more money, you're rewarding them."

In November, the Arizona Legislature conducted a sunset review of the Department of Economic Security. After hearing testimony about the status of funding and services, legislators voted to renew the agency's charter and review it again in ten years.

Senator Mary Hartley, Democrat of Phoenix, was horrified. She wanted a review in five years. Her proposal was defeated, so she authored a minority report detailing the department's shortcomings.

The report read, "The audits and hearings over the past months reveal an agency in turmoil, with enormous problems, funding and staffing shortages, inconsistency and turnover in leadership, and in the midst of numerous uncompleted reforms and changes. To allow this agency to escape a full and complete review for ten years in the face of such chaos is negligent."

The review was also necessary "to examine the impact on this agency of some of the radical changes at the federal level, such aswelfare reform and block grants."

The specifics of federal welfare reform have yet to be resolved, but the basics are fairly well-known. Federal entitlement programs--like AFDC--will be turned into block grants, which simply means that states will be given a lump sum of money for a fixed number of years and will be allowed to--within limits--dole it out how they choose. States will not be required to offer matching funds, as they are now with most entitlement programs.

Some states, including Arizona, will be given modest supplements based on population growth. But analysts say the additional money will not meet the state's needs, and warn that extra welfare dollars won't be made available if a recession hits.

R. Kent Weaver, an economist with the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C., says, "If the economy goes into a recession, then any additional funds that are needed to make up for an increased caseload will have to come out of the state budget."

The White House's most recent estimate, based on a May 1995 version of the U.S. Senate's welfare-reform plan, warns that 48,000 Arizona children would no longer qualify for AFDC. According to the analysis, Arizona would lose $366 million in federal funds under the Senate plan, including:

* $175 million in federal funding for AFDC, child care and emergency assistance.

* $66 million in federal funding for disabled children and their families. Fifteen percent of children with disabilities who currently qualify for Supplemental Security Income would have assistance cut off.

* $125 million in Supplemental Security Income assistance and other programs that serve legal immigrants.

And, after the welfare-reform debate ends, Congress will take up the reauthorization of the Older Americans Act, which provides funds for senior centers, legal assistance, meals and case management. Cuts are expected to be in the 9 percent to 13 percent range. Cuts of 10 percent to 20 percent also are expected in social-service block grants, which serve the elderly.

The states will have to make up the difference.
DES estimates that the 65-and-older population is growing faster in Arizona than anywhere else in the country, with the exception of Hawaii.

Late this fall, word came down from the governor: A flat budget is not enough. The Department of Economic Security has been asked to come up with a 5percent cut in its 1997 budget request, to help fund a tax reduction Symington would like the Legislature to pass.

Even Linda Blessing, the former auditor who now runs DES, realizes the budget cut would be devastating.

In a November 20 letter to Peter Burns, director of the Governor's Office of Strategic Planning and Budgeting, Blessing explained that the flat-budget requirement already had kept her agency from presenting a budget that reflects the community's needs.

To cut any further, she wrote, "will hinder the department's mission of assisting Arizonans in achieving their self-sufficiency.

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