Welfare cuts planned

As a souring economy makes life tougher for growing numbers of poor Nevadans, the state is preparing to cut back on the services designed to help them.

The proposed changes would yank some people out of programs faster, punish others for longer periods when they don't keep promises, and make children and other family members pay when heads of household don't follow the rules.

Nevada officials say cuts in the food stamp and welfare programs are needed because of shrinking federal reserves and state funds. They add that increased demand for those services is making the situation worse.

New rules for the public assistance programs will go into effect this fall, and the public's last chance to comment on the proposals will be at Aug. 19 hearings in Las Vegas and Carson City.

At the hearings, Nancy Ford, administrator of the Welfare and Supportive Services Division, is expected to decide which ones the state will adopt. If she follows the recommendations of her staff, she will approve all of them.

Ford already agrees the proposals "all meet the goals of reducing spending and ensuring that households comply" with the programs' rules.

The proposed changes include:

• Increasing the period during which families are kicked off welfare from one to three months when they don't follow through on plans to achieve self-sufficiency. Welfare and supportive services staff estimate 300 families a month are taken off welfare rolls for not sticking with their plans. The move would save about $1 million a year.

• Cutting off food stamps for the whole family instead of just the head of household who doesn't meet training and job search requirements. The food stamp change would affect about 500 households statewide. There are about 65,000 households in that program.

• Increasing the percentage of people's wages the state would count against them in determining eligibility for welfare and Medicaid and doing it sooner after they find jobs. This would make more people ineligible for the benefits.

Anna Marie Johnson, executive director of Nevada Legal Services, said the proposals are "disappointing." She said shifting the "wage disregards" would make it harder for "people to get back on their feet" and that taking back food stamps from an entire family when the head of household doesn't meet requirements would be "destructive to children."

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