Major welfare changes put on hold

The state Welfare Division, worried about how rapidly Nevada is running through its shrinking state and federal funds, adopted rule changes Tuesday designed to slow things down.

Because of the weak economy, welfare caseloads have grown substantially over the past year, drawing down reserves for programs such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Medicaid.

John Sasser of Washoe Legal Services said the division pulled back on the harshest proposals " including one that would have sharply reduced the income recipients could earn without losing benefits. That change would have left many recipients without welfare benefits after just three months.

Another similar regulation change for Medicaid eligibility was approved, but advocates were told it will have no impact until October of 2009, which gives them time to convince the 2009 Legislature not to make the reductions.

But, he said, other controversial proposals were adopted.

Welfare Administrator Nancy Ford said there was a lot of concern about imposing a three month "sit out period" on recipients who fail to comply with their Personal Responsibility Plan. That plan, required of all temporary-assistance recipients, is designed to get the individual off welfare and back to being a productive member of society. It includes such things as job hunting, education and training and lifestyle changes, among other things.

Advocates expressed concern that could hurt children of the recipient not meeting his or her goals. County officials said they were worried it would just shift the cost to them.

Ford said the idea is to motivate some recipients not meeting their personal plan requirements to do so.

At Sasser's request, the division postponed a plan aimed at stopping guardians from spending down the assets of their wards to qualify them for Medicaid benefits. Ford and others in the division said there are guardians and lawyers making a lot of money doing that when those assets could be used to support the individuals whose lives are being managed by a guardian. The regulations would make the ward ineligible for Medicaid if his or her assets are given away, sold or otherwise disposed of for less than fair-market value.

Sasser agreed the problem is serious.

"But the remedy is aimed in the wrong place," he said. "The remedy is to make the ward ineligible instead of the bad actor."

He said welfare should go after the guardian or lawyer rather than the ward whose life he or she is managing.

Ford and her staff agreed the proposal needs more work and decided to hold it until a future meeting.

- Contact reporter Geoff Dornan at or 687-8750.


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