Post and Courier (South Carolina), August 6, 2008: Welfare in S.C. gets low grade

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By Tony Bartelme

The Post and Courier

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Heartland Institute report

South Carolina does a lousy job providing low-income residents with emergency funds to keep them off welfare rolls, according to a new report card on state welfare systems.

In “Welfare Reform After Ten Years,” the Heartland Institute, a Chicago nonprofit that supports privatization of public services, said South Carolina ranked 34th in the country in how it runs its public assistance programs.

Maryland and Idaho did the best jobs reducing poverty and reforming welfare policies. Rhode Island and New Hampshire had the worst grades.

South Carolina was in the lower middle of the pack, scoring well in how it requires people on welfare to find jobs or take job-training courses.

But it scored an F on providing working welfare recipients with funds in emergencies. This is important, the group said, because such funds can help lower-income workers continue in their jobs and stay off welfare.

A local nonprofit, HALOS, regularly sees how this hole in the state’s safety net affects people, said Kim Clifton, executive director. HALOS works with social workers, churches

and other groups to provide abused and neglected people with supplies and services, including those who might not qualify for welfare.

“Because of the lack of coordination and oversight, it’s hit or miss in terms of who gets help,” Clifton said, adding that although the state received an A for imposing work requirements, “we still have a child poverty rate that is extremely high, per the report.”

Linda Martin, director of family assistance for the Department of Social Services, took issue with some of the report’s findings and said the state does the best it can to provide emergency funds.

“It’s always best to quickly solve a short-term problem to keep it from becoming a long-term one,” she said. The state distributes $1.6 million in emergency funds a year to the counties. The problem, she said, is that people often need assistance the most when the economy sours, when the Legislature’s budget is the tightest. Martin said the federal government recently issued policies that discourage expansion of these emergency programs.

The Heartland Institute report noted that since welfare reform began in 1996, welfare rolls have shrunk by 70 percent. The group describes itself as nonpartisan, but it says it has an agenda “to discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems.” The group has been criticized for its connections to the tobacco and petroleum industries and its position that there’s no scientific consensus that human activities are contributing to global warming.

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