A typical welfare family in Idaho, consisting of a single mother and two children, receiving all major forms of assistance, could receive benefits equal to the take-home income from a job that pays $11,150, according to a new report. Thats close to what a minimum-wage job would pay, at 30 hours a week, 52 weeks a year.
The report, from the Cato Institute, based in Washington, D.C., argued that some Idahoans, who are paid among the lowest wages in the country, will choose to live on welfare benefits instead of working. It also said Idaho has the fourth-lowest level of welfare benefits in the nation.
The Cato report said states could shrink the gap between welfare and work by cutting welfare benefits and tightening eligibility requirements. State legislatures and Congress also should make changes to welfare work rules, the report said.
But Rep. Fred Wood, R-Burley, who chairs the Idaho House Health and Welfare Committee, said the states hands are tied. For the most part, welfare programs are subject to federal not state laws, regulations and funding. Typically, what Idaho has tried to do is not add anything more than just the lowest benefits, he said.
WHO GETS WHAT?
There currently are 72 federally funded programs that provide cash or other benefits to low-income people, Cato said. The report looked at seven of those programs, including cash assistance, Medicaid and food stamps. It did not include unemployment benefits or spending on long-term care.
About 322,288 Idahoans 20 percent of the states population received cash, Medicaid, food stamps and/or child-care assistance in June 2012, according to the latest annual report from the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.
In Idaho, some of the benefits Cato analyzed are used primarily by children, low-income elderly and people with disabilities people who may not be able to work a full-time job. The Cato Institute did not immediately respond to questions about whether the report considered welfare recipients ability to work.
For example, about 15 percent of Idahoans are on Medicaid. About 75 percent of them are children. An additional 16 percent are adults with intense needs, both for behavioral health and medical services, or who are elderly and also have greater needs for medical services [and] long-term care such as assisted living facilities or nursing homes, according to Health and Welfare. Idaho allows almost no healthy adults to use Medicaid one of the strictest eligibility requirements in the United States, Wood said.
Other benefits are offered to adults who can work. Food stamps SNAP benefits are available to low-income Idahoans with assets worth less than $5,000. Recipients must participate in a work-search program unless they receive exemptions. The average per-person food-stamp allotment in Idaho was $128 in June 2012, according to the department.
WORK VERSUS WELFARE
One of the single best ways to climb out of poverty is taking a job, but as long as Idahos welfare program provides a standard of living comparable to many entry-level jobs, recipients will continue to choose it over work, said Michael Tanner, a senior fellow for Cato who wrote the report. Idahoans who receive welfare arent lazy, and theyre not stupid either. Until Boise and Washington, D.C., take serious steps to reduce welfare dependence and reward work, there will be little incentive for welfare-reliant individuals to enter the workforce.
The inflation-adjusted dollar value of a full package of public assistance has decreased by $7,964 since 1995 about 31 percent the report said. The full package would be valued at $17,766 per year.
Meanwhile, the pre-tax wage income that would be needed to match those benefits has decreased by $16,048 about 59 percent since then.
Audrey Dutton: 377-6448, Twitter: @IDS_Audrey