Most West Virginians who left welfare in 1998 are experiencing financial difficulty, yet they say they are at least as well off, if not better off, now than they were before they left government assistance, according to a study West Virginia University researchers presented at an interim session of the Legislature today (Dec. 13).

The comprehensive, state-wide, random-sample study of WV WORKS recipients whose cases were closed during 1998 was administered last summer and fall and was funded by the state Department of Health and Human Resources. More than half of the surveys (962/1,920) were completed and returned, creating the most comprehensive, scientifically valid assessment of experiences of former welfare recipients ever undertaken in West Virginia. The study had a margin of error of 4 percent.

“There is both good news and bad news in this study,”said Robert Dilger, director of WVUs Institute for Public Affairs in the Eberly College of Arts and Sciences.”The good news is that most respondents who left WV WORKS /TANF in 1998 were still off when they completed the survey, more than half of the respondents were employed, and, as a group, their assessment of their future and their childrens future was relatively positive.”

But the survey also shows that despite their optimism, the respondents are experiencing severe financial difficulties. Although most of the respondents were employed, many who wanted work were unable to find a job, and even those who did find employment typically found employment at or near the national minimum wage. Most of the respondents, even those who were employed, had a family household income that was at or below $10,000 in 1998, and most of the respondents anticipated having a family household income at or below $10,000 in 1999.

Also, almost half (40.2 percent) of the respondents reported that they sometimes did not have enough money to put food on the table, to get medicine (40.2 percent) or go to the doctor (39.6 percent). Some of the respondents reported that they have had to go without lights or electricity (9.6 percent), heat (8.8 percent), and water (7.6 percent). In addition, 8 percent of the respondents reported that their financial situation was much worse off since leaving WV WORKS /TANF and 13.5 percent of the respondents reported that their future looked very poor, the study shows.

“The situation of those reporting that they were now much worse off since leaving the WV WORKS /TANF program,”Dr. Dilger said,”was best represented by a person who responded to the question: If there was one thing you could do to improve your familys well-being, what would it be? by saying: I need a miracle.”

Dilger said the survey showed that those who responded are”a remarkably resilient group of people who are trying to improve their lives and the lives of their children. Most of them are struggling financially, yet, as a group, they maintain a relatively positive outlook on life.”

Dilger added that he hopes the information from the study will be useful to state policymakers as they find new and revise existing policies to address the needs of”our states most vulnerable citizens.”