Monday, November 05, 2001

Welfare benefits ending for some

Families worry about finding work

The Associated Press

        PIKEVILLE, Ky. — Time has expired for the first 852 Kentucky families who fell under an October 1996 federal law that put a five-year limit on welfare assistance.

        State officials said last week that fewer than 500 families may get exemptions from the Welfare Reform Law. More than 1,100 Kentucky welfare households will be discontinued from the program by year's end, according to state estimates.

        The families face challenges as seemingly small as paying the electric bill, but as large as overcoming learning disabilities, mental illness, substance abuse or domestic violence.

        The number of welfare cases in Kentucky has dropped from 69,559 then to just 33,308 this past September. The remaining cases are mostly the most difficult ones, officials say.

        “It's the hardest-to-reach population,” said Kelly Jackson, who oversees welfare reform concerns as manager of the program assistance and resource branch in the state Cabinet for Families and Children. “They can't be pushed straight into employment.”

        A year ago, Tina Mullins, a divorced mother of two whose 15-year-old son lives with her, moved into a small two-bedroom home in a neighborhood known for its crime and drug trafficking.

        Ms. Mullins has two years left to receive her monthly $225 welfare check, but that doesn't make her situation more hopeful. She has little education and no clear idea of what sort of job to pursue.

        “No one's going to hire me,” she said. “I put in applications everywhere. I've had interviews but that's it. It's hard. All I have to pay all my bills and raise my son on is $225. It doesn't get what he needs and nothing he wants.”

        Ms. Mullins, who dropped out of school in the 10th grade and got married at 17, will have trou ble finding a decent job because she doesn't have the skills employers need, said Shirley Thompson, a welfare counselor who works with her.

        Ms. Mullins is trying to improve her skills by attending classes to earn her high-school equivalency diploma. But she's also trying to overcome depression and a learning disability.

        “Sometimes we come across people with mental illnesses who don't know it,” said Ms. Thompson, who works through the University of Kentucky Women's Institute. “Sometimes women are in abusive relationships they can't escape. Sometimes they want a GED, but they aren't even capable of that.”

        If Ms. Mullins is fortunate enough to find a job, she knows it won't solve her problems. She knows it will be a low-wage job.

        But she also knows that if she doesn't find something, the welfare check will run out. And that, she said, makes her “worried, scared, nervous.”


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