Welfare Cash Time Limits
The ProJo reports:
Thousands of poor Rhode Islanders have received cash welfare benefits for longer than five years, the time limit adopted by state leaders during the sweeping welfare changes of a decade ago intended to push poor families into the work force.
Nearly half of the state’s 10,755 families receiving cash assistance last year had been on welfare rolls for more than five years, according to data provided by the Department of Human Services. And nearly one quarter of the families had been on cash assistance for more than 10 years.
The story seems skeptical that much savings can be generated by enforcing time limits because many of those on the rolls are exempt for various reasons. Further, according to the ProJo, these exemptions partially explain how “the state had the third-highest number of recipients on welfare as a percentage of population in the nation last year.” Part of that is because around 40% of all cases in Rhode Island are “child only”, whereby a child is provided cash instance even if the parent no longer qualifies.
And tucked in the story is this bit of data:
Rhode Island is not unusual in its decision to cap welfare benefits at 60 months over a person’s lifetime. Thirty-seven states have a 60-month limit and five states and the District of Columbia have no limit, according to an analysis provided by the Poverty Institute at Rhode Island College.
Apparently, we’re not that far from the norm after all. Really?
I wasn’t sure where the Poverty Institute got it’s information. The only reference I could find was in a press release from them, “FIP Facts.” Item 10 states, “Rhode Island’s Time Limits are Consistent with the Majority of States. Rhode Island has a 60 month time limit for adults on FIP. Thirty-seven (37) other states have a 60 month time limit and 5 have no time limit.” This didn’t sound right to me, so I went to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services web site and dug around. The below table seems to dispute what the RIPI states:
There are also many more supporting tables located here. So how did the Poverty Institute determine that 37 states have a 60 month time limit? They are using the lifetime limits states have implemented, which are often different than consecutive month time limits (these are the “Shorter Termination Time Limit” states in the above table). For instance, in Connecticut you can only receive assistance for 21 consecutive months and are capped at 60 months over your lifetime. In Massachusetts, you can receive assistance for 24 out of 60 months, but there is no lifetime cap.
Additionally, Rhode Island is one of 7 states classified in the above table as “60-month reduction or replacement time limit” which are states that have a 60-month time limit but continue to provide some level of support even after the limit has been reached.
In short, the Poverty Institute didn’t tell the whole story. Their numbers imply that Rhode Island is just like the vast majority of states, which have a 60 consecutive month time limit. The truth is that Rhode Island is really only 1 of 7 states that offer 5 consecutive years of regular cash assistance but will continue to pay more for longer if deemed necessary.