Nevada Welfare System

New federal laws requiring Nevada to put more welfare recipients to work will strain the state's welfare system, lawmakers were told Wednesday.

Nancy Ford, chief of the state Division of Welfare and Social Services, outlined the problem in discussing a two-year welfare budget that includes $144.8 million in general funds, about $6 million more than in the previous budget.

The federal government, which pays about two-thirds of the welfare payments that Nevada families receive, requires the state to show that half of the single parents who receive benefits are either working or in a training program.

That wasn't a problem in years past, but a new federal law will force states to measure their progress differently. Inadequate progress could lead to stiff fines.

Until now, the state got credit for about 24,000 families that have moved off welfare rolls since 1996. The result was that the welfare division only had to show that a small fraction - less than 2 percent - of remaining welfare recipients were working.

Under the new law, the federal government will only give the state credit for its caseload reduction since 2005, and welfare officials say current recipients, mostly single mothers, are difficult cases.

Today, about 18,000 families receive welfare, now called Temporary Aid to Needy Families. For a family of three, the maximum grant is $348 per month.

"We fully anticipate we'll fail work placement rates this year," said Ford. "This is a hard-to-serve population. Many don't have adequate education, and they struggle with day-to-day life."

Ford has asked for 30 more welfare field workers in the next budget to help meet work placement goals.

For single-parent families, the state has to show that half are completing the work necessary - an average of 30 hours a week. If
Nevada fails to meet that goal, the federal government could assess
a $2.2 million penalty.

In order to get more recipients to fill out the required paperwork, Ford said applicants will be required to submit that data before, not after, they get their benefit check.

The federal government also will require the state to collect a $25 fee when it helps families collect child support payments, to help pay for those services. Two-thirds of that fee will go to the federal government.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)