Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Next Welfare Reform: Counter Boomerang Effect

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

The Next Welfare Reform: Counter Boomerang Effect

Article excerpt

The number of people receiving public assistance has dropped dramatically since the welfare revolution in 1996. But more than a fifth of the thousands of families that have left welfare have boomeranged back, and rolls started climbing again last year in 30 states.

As Congress debates the next stage of welfare reform this month, new research on who leaves and who returns suggests that moving from welfare to economic self-sufficiency should be more like learning to fly a plane than like parachuting out its hatch into the blue.

More than half of those who return to welfare - the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program - originally left with a job. They soon either got laid off, lost their jobs for other reasons, or found they could not earn enough to stay afloat. Many couldn't find child care and the other backstops that working parents need.

The Urban Institute's National Survey of America's Families also shows other influences on boomeranging. People with some postsecondary education stay off welfare longer after leaving it than those with no high school diploma. Over a third of former recipients who have a child after leaving rejoin the rolls. Those in poor mental or physical health are more likely than others to return. And married people are only a third as likely as never- marrieds to get back on the welfare rolls.

Clearly, families cutting loose from the welfare system need help making a lasting go of work.

Evidence from the national survey and from state studies tells the same story: Families who get child care, public health insurance, food stamps, housing assistance, or emergency assistance are much less likely to return to welfare than those who don't. Yet, many former recipients who qualify for these work-support benefits that have proven effective don't get them.

Fewer than a third of adults who had left welfare in the past two years - whether for a job or not - reported they were receiving food stamps. A third of former adult recipients and a fifth of children had no health insurance.

Many of these families qualify for public benefits, but either don't know they do or find negotiating the application maze while working is too difficult - small wonder when waiting in line or scraping documentation together can sometimes take all day. …

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