Members of several low-income advocacy groups learned about a delay in implementation of Utah's welfare reform pilot project and discussed human service needs that could be eased, in part, by tapping the state's surplus funds.
Welfare intake staff is being trained in self-sufficiency techniques in Davis County, but the pilot welfare reform project is behind schedule and probably won't officially begin until July 1, according to Don Koldewyn, director of the Davis district Office of Community Operations. The self-sufficiency work is beginning already, however.Davis County was selected for Utah's pilot experiment in welfare reform because it contains roughly 5 percent of the state's total Aid to Families with Dependent Children population. Officials and clients hope the state will be able to provide enough training and assistance for people to leave the welfare rolls and enter the work force. Although the pilot project is expected to cost half a million dollars, officials believe it will more than pay for itself in long-term savings.
"We have had some problems getting new personnel on board," Koldewyn told low-income advocates during a Utah Issues meeting with the Department of Social Services Friday.
In the meantime, a committee has been assembling a waivers package for the federal government. With a waiver, the state requests permission to change policies in the Davis area only. Among the proposals are requests to extend Medicaid for nine months once someone leaves the rolls, and lower the mandatory self-sufficiency age, according to Leonard Peevy of the Department of Social Services.
"We also want to eliminate all or part of the monthly reporting requirement," he said, bolster an emergency assistance program and "cash out" Food Stamps on a voluntary basis.
During the same meeting, Utah Issues representatives presented a list of needs that a portion of the surplus could be used to alleviate. The group said it might be appropriate to raise welfare grants, which haven't been increased since 1985 despite inflation. Norman Angus, director of Social Services, said the increase would cost the state about $217,000 for each percentage point grants were raised.
Expanding the General Assistance-Emergency Work Program from a six-month to a year-round program would cost about $130,300, he said.
No figures were given on the cost to the state if the sales tax on food was eliminated, but a legislative analyst indicated it would be "significant," and such a move was unlikely.
Other suggestions for using a portion of the surplus included restoring programs for the handicapped, mentally ill, elderly, retarded and those with substance abuse problems that were recently cut by the Legislature; funding an increased number of workers in the department; allocating more money for welfare reform's pilot project; or setting aside the surplus to counter negative effects of proposed tax initiatives.
The decisions will, of course, be made by the lawmakers, and anyone who has suggestions should contact legislators, said Bill Walsh, Utah Issues director.