Saturday, August 04, 2001

Off welfare, still in poverty

Many better off, but still struggling

The Associated Press

        LOUISVILLE — Kentucky's welfare rolls have been cut by half since 1996, but many families getting off the assistance remain in poverty, according to a study.

        Many on welfare have resisted efforts to upgrade their education skills, the study found. But those off assistance for at least three years generally report being better off in terms of income, expenses and health.

        The report was released Thursday by the state Cabinet for Families and Children and the University of Louisville. It includes data from 1996 through June 2000 and relies on ongoing interviews of 500 people, many of whom have moved off welfare since the study began.

        “Families are not worse off when they leave the rolls,” said cabinet Secretary Viola Miller. “Families say they are at least as well off or better.”

        Still, cabinet officials acknowledged many current and former welfare recipients remain in the ranks of the “working poor” and said they must figure out how to help them.

        About 32 percent of those who moved off welfare remain in poverty. Ten percent of the families earn less than 50 percent of the federal poverty level, the report found.

        “That means a family of three is living on about $578 or less a month, and many either don't know about or have not requested food stamps, Medicaid, or child-care and housing assistance, help that is generally available to them,” Ms. Miller said.

        In 1996, Kentucky had about 72,000 families on welfare; as of June 2000, that number had dropped to about 37,500, according to the study. And the welfare rolls have continued to decline, though at a slower rate.

        But people recently off welfare run into many hardships, especially in the first few years, said Gerald Barber, a U of L professor and one of the report's authors.

        The report points out problems getting medical care, housing, transportation and child-care assistance.

        But over time, he said, families are faring better. Although financial problems don't disappear, the report found people better off than they were on welfare, in better physical and mental health.

        While 86 percent of those in the study were satisfied with their jobs, only 39 percent were earning $8 or more per hour.


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