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Number of state residents on welfare increasing

by Gail Marsh

ASSISTANT CITY EDITOR

CHARLESTON -- After a six-year decline, the number of state residents on welfare has begun to rise, mirroring a national trend.

Though caseloads overall are down around the nation, a number of states, including West Virginia, are seeing their numbers increase.

From February 1999 to October 2000, the number of state residents receiving cash assistance rose nearly 8 percent. But most of that can be attributed to a raise in benefits and increased eligibility, according to John Law, spokesperson with the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

Law said the state's welfare program is divided into four categories: Cash assistance, Medicaid, child support and food stamps. Only the numbers of those receiving cash assistance were considered in the statistics that show the state numbers are rising.

In February 1999, families who received cash assistance under the temporary assistance to needy families program, or TANF, received $253 a month. Since then, the amount has raised five times, and families who qualify for TANF now receive $453.

Along with the rise in benefits for current TANF recipients, the eligibility guidelines were broadened to allow more families to apply, Law said.

"That's really where the additional caseload has come from, from the additional money and the increased threshold of eligibility," Law said. "We are not saying that this has gone up because of a major economic impact."

In the first three months of this year, an average of 13,286 state residents received monthly cash assistance, compared to an average of 13,172 per month for all of last year.

As opposed to the old welfare system, residents who work at minimum-wage jobs may still qualify for benefits, Law said.

"In the old system, if you went to work you lost all benefits. Now, you could conceivably work at a minimum-wage job and still qualify for such things as Medicaid or food stamps," he said.

Assistant City Editor Gail Marsh can be reached at 626-1447 or by e-mail at gmarsh@exponent-telegram.com.

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