Texas is a big state that has big social problems on its hands, but finding funds for 464 children now in foster care that came from formerly financially self-sufficient families won't be one of them, state child welfare and experts said last week.
Although the Texas Health and Human Services Commission has reported that none of the families who are members of the west Texas FLDS sect targeted by child protective services were on welfare, by becoming wards of the state they will be eligible for various taxpayer-funded social services they weren't using before the April 3 raid.
Actual numbers of recipients and total amounts spent to underwrite the families not now being taken care of are still being tabulated, said Stephanie Goodman, a spokeswoman for Texas human services. Whatever the figure, the amount will be minimal, and the governor has promised that appropriations to cover the costs will be made in any case.
The Houston Chronicle has reported that not one of the nearly 3,000 residents of Schleicher County, where the Yearning for Zion Ranch is located, is receiving state assistance. There are just more than 200 receiving federal food stamps, and there are 63 children enrolled in the joint state and federal Chil-
dren's Health Insurance Program. The newspaper also reports that 283 residents are covered by Medicaid, the government medical insurance plan for the poor.
The splinter group, which actively seeks the least possible involvement with government local zoning ordinances the most notable exception has had a history in other states of using whatever financial supplements provided by the government.
Six years ago, the Utah Attorney General's Office reported that between 65 and 80 percent of the residents of polygamous families in Colorado City, Ariz., and Hildale, Utah, were on food stamps.
In 1998, statistics from the federal government showed that Colorado City and Hildale were on a list of the top 10 towns with a population of more than 2,000 "most reliant" on Medicaid.
Unlike efforts eight years ago in Arizona and Utah, the sect members in Texas have not been involved in either sending children to or controlling the local public school district.
The need for any government assistance was out of the question a month and a half ago. Funding from sources not well-documented but apparent in the streets, three-story buildings and the temple at the center is valued today at $20.5 million. The 1,700-acre site that was mostly sagebrush flats inhabited by jackrabbits was purchased, according to county documents, for $700,000.
The land, quarrying nearby limestone for the temple, construction and building of homes on the YFZ Ranch were paid for in large part by sweat equity. According to Associated Press reports, money to purchase materials to irrigate and provide potable water was likely paid for with a trust fund estimated at $114 million.
Sect members also have a $1.2 million contract with the Pentagon to manufacture aircraft wheels and brakes.
Observers of the Texas situation believe that sect members have been doing their best not be accused of creating a kind of welfare state of their own to avoid the risk of accusations of fraud or taking advantage of a system in which they basically want no part.
Neither the immediate nor long-term fiscal impact of the decision to round up the children from the compound is known."I haven't seen anything," said Richard Wexler, executive director of the National Coalition for Child Protection Reform, who has followed the case closely and writes a daily blog at www.nccpr.org.