Poverty In Washington, 20 Years After Welfare Reform

Aug 22, 2016


Monday marks 20 years since the welfare system was overhauled by the federal government.The 1996 reforms ended some welfare benefits, and in turn encouraged people to find work by offering job-training and money for things like child care. The federal government wanted to reduce the amount of people relying on welfare.

By that measure, it has worked. Before welfare reform, about 75 percent of poor families in Washington were on welfare.

Now, that's down to 33 percent. Jennie Romich says there's another way to look at it, She's with the University of Washington's School of Social Work.

"If the concern is the financial well-being of poor families, it has not been a success," Romich said. 

Romich says the problem of deep poverty in Washington has gotten worse under welfare reform. Those are people with income less than half the federal poverty level.

At the same time, there is less cash assistance from welfare available.

"They're not getting much. A single family with two kids is about $500 a month, and that's not enough to pay the rent really anywhere in the state, much less pay for things like clothing or utilities or transportation," Romich said.

She says the state of Washington has tried to help. For a while, state officials ignored the rule that cuts people off from cash assistance after five years. Then the great recession hit, and the state couldn't be as generous.

Copyright 2016 KUOW