The number of Nevadans getting welfare benefits during May was down 17 percent compared with the same month a year earlier - but Gov. Kenny Guinn said Thursday he remains cautious.
Guinn said the welfare benefits are "only one small part of the spectrum," and food stamp caseloads and numbers of Nevadans getting Medicaid benefits continue to grow.
"When you examine these issues in conjunction with an economy that could still be adversely affected by factors such as the recent SARS epidemic and continued terrorism threats, you can see why caution is prudent," Guinn said.
State Welfare Administrator Nancy Ford said the total of Nevadans getting welfare grants in May was 29,132. That's up 0.8 percent from 28,909 a month earlier, and down 17 percent from the May 2002 total of 35,122.
The average single parent in Nevada receives $271 a month from temporary assistance. The average two-parent family on the program gets $342 a month.
Ford also said the number of food stamp recipients went up 1 percent, to 109,335, between March and April, the last month available. The April food stamp total was 11 percent higher than the April 2002 total.
The number of people eligible for Medicaid, the program of medical assistance to the needy, went up 2.2 percent between April and May, from 166,199 to 169,844.
The number of those getting Medicaid was 9 percent higher in May compared with the same month a year earlier. The 2001 Legislature authorized money for about 133,000 Medicaid recipients this fiscal year.
Ford also said the 2003 Legislature didn't approve any increases in the state's welfare budget, which is about $34 million a year. Until recently, the agency had been spending at a rate of about $42 million a year, using $9 million in reserves to carry the growing caseloads.
But now that the reserves are depleted, she said the state must cut spending to stay within the budget. The cuts include discontinued child-care subsidies for people who work from home and reduced time for getting financial help.
"These are hard decisions," Ford said. "We know it will impact families, but how it will impact families is hard to determine right now."
The policy changes alone won't bring the agency within the budget, but Ford said other cuts that eliminate certain groups from child-care assistance eligibility were made earlier in the year.
Advocates for low-income families said the policy changes will hurt the working poor and probably won't save the state much money in the long run.
"Families are going to be hurt, and that's the bottom line," said Jan Gilbert, a lobbyist for the Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada.
Gilbert said the cost of child care is the biggest barrier low-income families face when it comes to becoming self-sufficient. Often the jobs they obtain are entry-level and do not pay enough to cover child care.
(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)