Lawmakers Should Strengthen Programs that Support Work
Washington state’s weak economy requires greater investment in programs that help people find or keep a job, and help mitigate the impact of poverty on kids. As the Legislature debates a new budget, the focus should be on strengthening WorkFirst, our state’s main program to help children and families during tough times.
During the 2012 legislative session the single largest cut to the state budget was to the WorkFirst program, in which seven of every 10 recipients is a child. The cut weakened a program proven to help parents find or keep a job and meet their children's basic needs.
As a result of cuts to WorkFirst:
- Cash assistance has declined. Today, a family of three can receive a maximum of $478 per month to make ends meet. That is only one-quarter of the amount needed to cover a family’s basic needs, like food, housing, clothing, and school supplies (see graph). Cash assistance is not adjusted for inflation. When combined with a 15 percent cut in 2010, the value of the grant has declined by 40 percent since 1996.
- Cuts to a critical lifeline of support. Washington state is enforcing a harsh 60-month lifetime limit on WorkFirst benefits, which has forced 27,000 people off the program even though unemployment remains exceedingly high, especially in rural parts of the state. Two of every three kicked off the program is a child, and time limits drastically reduces their access to resources that mitigate the impact of poverty. (see graph).
In a tough economy, programs that help people work should be strengthened, not cut. When more families are able to achieve economic security, children are more likely to thrive and the economy will grow.
Also in this series: Strong Public Policies Essential in a Weak Economy.