Experts: Arizona only state to halt welfare checks during shutdown

October 04, 2013 | AZ Central |  Link to article

Policy experts say Arizona appears to be the only state in the nation so far to have withheld welfare checks because of the federal shutdown, a move key state lawmakers want Gov. Jan Brewer to reverse.

The shutdown halted funding Tuesday for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, which states use to provide cash assistance and other support for low-income children and parents. Arizona officials announced this week that 5,200 eligible families would not receive payments, which average $207 a month.

"It basically means that families who already have very low income, who are approved and expecting their payments, didn't get them. And with very little warning," said LaDonna Pavetti, vice president for family income support at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C.

Pavette and Elizabeth Lower-Basch, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy in Washington, said they aren't aware of any other states that have failed to make welfare payments because of the shutdown.

States are allowed to use contingency funding or move money around to fund the cash-assistance payments, and other states have done so. In a letter to state welfare directors this week, federal officials said states would be reimbursed once the budget impasse is resolved.

Arizona is one of 11 states that use only federal funding for the welfare payments, and the state uses the majority of its TANF funds for its burgeoning child-welfare programs.

The state Department of Economic Security and Brewer's office did not respond to telephone calls and e-mails seeking comment Thursday and Friday.

Senate Minority Leader Leah Landrum Taylor, D-Phoenix, said DES Director Clarence Carter told her he had no funds available to make the welfare payments, which amount to about $1 million for the 5,200 families affected. She called on Brewer to bring legislators into a special session to tap the state's $450 million "rainy day fund."

"The rainy-day fund is for emergencies, and this is an emergency," she said. "This is beyond hurting the families. ... Families are relying upon this."

House Democratic leaders sent a letter to Carter and Brewer on Thursday asking that they shift funding within DES to cover the welfare payments.

"As we are sure you are all too aware, families who do not receive their TANF checks may not be able to pay rent, utilities or afford food," the lawmakers wrote. "Many families receiving TANF cash benefits are caring for children who would otherwise be in CPS."

More than $75 million of the state's TANF funds supports foster care and other CPS-related services, but those programs also receive significant state funding that could see them through a brief shutdown. It's unknown, however, how many of the TANF families who are not receiving payments this month have open CPS cases.

Rep. Debbie McCune Davis, D-Phoenix, said DES officials indicated that "there isn't money that they can free up to cover this."

"So the ball is in the governor's court. She would either need to release emergency funds or call the Legislature back into session," McCune Davis said. "These are resources that are going to the most needy families in our state. They are families with children who are very unlikely to have any cash reserves to fall back on."

Other programs that rely on TANF funds are on hold, including the $9.6 million JOBS program designed to help parents on welfare find work and $3.7 million in emergency services funding, which is used to help people make one-time payments for things such as rent and utilities.

DES this week notified service providers that they will "slightly delay payments to vendors" because of the shutdown. The memo said the agency was analyzing the impact of the shutdown on its federally funded programs.

In an interoffice bulletin to supervisors, the DES listed the payment programs that were placed on hold Wednesday, including cash assistance, refugee assistance and TANF funds for the Hopi, Pascua Yaqui, Salt River Pima-Maricopa and San Carlos Apache tribes.

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