Federal reforms in the nations welfare system have taken more West Virginians than ever off public assistancebut have those changes taken them out of poverty?
A state welfare reform study by West Virginia University researchers that attempts an answer was featured in Sundays (July 24) Washington Post. (That article may be accessed online at:http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/07/23/AR2005072300749.html )
The study was conducted by WVU s Interdisciplinary Task Force on Welfare Reform, comprised of Eberly College of Arts and Sciences faculty in public administration, social work, political science and sociology.
Case histories profiled among rural West Virginians, said study co-author Dr. L. Christopher Plein, could easily serve as a model for other states grappling with the federal changes in the public assistance program,
Plein, assistant dean of WVU s School of Applied Social Sciences, was interviewed for the article.
The changes charted by the task force came about in 1996, in the form of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, which sets a five-year limit for receiving welfare benefits while requiring recipients to pursue an education, get job training or perform public service.
Since that law took effect, welfare rolls in West Virginia have dropped from 38,404 to less than 10,000, as reported by the WVU study. But that lower number on the ledger doesnt translate into an elevation in quality of life, the study notes.
In West Virginia, as reported by Plein and his fellow researchers, a total of 73.1 percent of the now-former welfare recipients were still unemployed a year after the checks stopped, and more than 65 percent said couldnt make enough money to afford basic utilities.
The lesson in that, he told the Post, is that while not all states are alike, every situation that forces a person to go on, or remain on, public assistance is also different.
The bottom line is that those who are in need of public assistance reflect the diversity of our society,he said,and that many times circumstances beyond ones control requires them to rely on public assistance.
Since 1999, the WVU task force has undertaken four major studies commissioned by the state Department of Health and Human Resources chronicling the lives and times of those on and off welfare in West Virginia.
Those studies caught the attention of state policymakers immediately, Plein said, while grabbing national attention, tooas evidenced by Sundays Washington Post article.
A book borne of the studies,Welfare Reform in West Virginia,is a Book of the Year finalist for a prestigious trade publication geared to academics. ForeWord Magazine nominated the book in its political science category.
Published by the WVU Press, the book was co-authored by Plein and WVU professors Eleanor Blakely, Melissa Latimer, Barry Locke and David Williams, along with former professors Robert Dilger and Carson Mencken. Lucinda Potter, a WVU doctoral student in political science, is also a co-author.