Welfare Benefits are More than just Cash
“Today, state spending on cash assistance through FIP accounts for less than one-half of 1 percent of our entire state budget,” ~ Kate Brewster, RI Poverty Institute.
The qualifier “cash assistance” makes all the difference, though, and ProJo reporter Katherine Gregg picked it up. As Gregg reports, direct cash assistance has dropped from $58 million in 1996 to $7.7 million today, but–lest anyone is left with the incorrect perception that welfare assistance as a whole “is less than one-half of 1% of the state budget“– Gregg supplies a couple clarifications:
State officials were unable to produce growth numbers for the popular RIte Care program yesterday. But state spending on subsidized childcare jumped from $6.3 million to $39.1 million during this same period.
The net result: while the number of people getting cash dropped dramatically, the combined cost to state taxpayers of FIP and childcare went from $57.3 million to $55.3 million.
Yes, we are spending less cash to welfare recipients via FIP than in the past. (Here’s the latest report–PDF). However, much of that cash has been converted into government provided services like subsidized day care and health care for the same population. So while $7 million is indeed 1/2% of a $7 billion state budget, the cash from FIP is only part of the equation. And to try to disassociate the infrastructure costs from the actual benefits provided is a bit disingenuous, too. DHS comprises nearly 40% of the budget–that money goes somewhere.
ADDENDUM: I tried to parse out the cost of RIte Care–which has been deemed a successful program–from the state budget documents but my wonkish abilities may have hit the wall. The best I can do is refer to the “Medical Benefits” portion of the DHS budget. The “Medical Benefits” portion of the 2008 DHS Budget document reads:
The Medical Benefits Program assures quality and access to necessary medical services for approximately 186,000 consumers through the purchase of health care at a reasonable cost, primarily financed by Medicaid. These services are provided to three population groups: families and children, individuals with disabilities, and the elderly. Medicaid is a federal and state matching entitlement program administered by states to provide medical benefits. The federal share of reimbursement, which is based on a state’s per capita personal income, is 52.35 percent for federal fiscal year 2007 and 52.57 percent for federal fiscal year 2008.
The Medical Benefits Program provides health insurance to FIP families, children through age 18 with family incomes not in excess of 250 percent of the federal poverty limit and other low income families. Health care is provided to children with special needs under the Supplemental Security Income Program (SSI) or the Early Periodic Screening Diagnosis and Treatment (EPSDT) program. Acute and long-term care services are provided to adults with disabilities and the elderly. There are four home and community-based waiver programs administered directly by DHS or through the Departments of Elderly Affairs (DEA) and Mental Health, Retardation and Hospitals. A Section 1115 SCHIP waiver provides that families without access to employer- based insurance will have health insurance coverage, or be able to maintain their employer-sponsored insurance benefits, if more cost-effective. HCQFP administers the Early Intervention Program for at- risk children up to age three.
The farthest back I can get is via the 2001 budget (PDF), which contained the numbers for 1998 in which we find that the state contributed $287.9 million (out of $614.6 million) towards all aspects of this program. Yet, I don’t know how many people were receiving benefits. In, 2001 there were 125,000 consumers receiving benefits at a total cost to the state of $323.5 million (out of $707 million). The 2008 numbers are 186,000 consumers with benefits costing the state $670.2 million (out of $1.4 billion). That’s a doubling of the total budget over the last 8 years, but also an increase of 61,000 people to the program. (Meanwhile, the population has only grown by 1.8% from 2000 to 2006; about 20-25,000 people).