The state welfare agency, the Adult and Family Services Division, (AFS) is demanding that caseworkers significantly reduce their caseloads even though the agency has $10 million in federal funds available to expand help to low income families, according to the Silverton-based Oregon Center for Public Policy. The OCPP is a non-profit, nonpartisan research institute addressing issues important to Oregon’s poor and moderate income households.
“New information provided by agency ‘moles’ shows that AFS is now planning to help 800 fewer poor Oregon families with children by the end of September than the agency told the April Emergency Board,” said Charles Sheketoff, executive director of the Oregon Center for Public Policy (OCPP). “In July, the agency administrators directed staff to help fewer people, leaving millions in federal block grant funds unspent and stockpiled,” added Sheketoff
“AFS officials are choosing to help fewer families with children while Oregon ranks highest in the nation in hunger and there is no evidence that the need for welfare assistance has declined,” said Sheketoff.
Each year the state receives a block of funds from the federal government to lift the income of and provide services to certain poor families with children. The Oregon Legislature approved spending this entire block grant. The most recent analyses of the agency’s spending patterns by the Legislative Revenue Office and the Department of Administrative Services projected that the state will likely have $10 million in unspent block grant funds for the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program.
“This new push to serve fewer poor Oregon families with children means the stockpile of federal dollars will grow,” said Sheketoff.
“The $10 million surplus means the agency could help lift the incomes and provide job training assistance to over 1,000 more families each month this biennium. Instead, the agency is working hard to reduce the number of families it helps, and building an even bigger reserve of federal welfare dollars,” said Sheketoff.
“The welfare agency asked for and obtained permission from the Legislature to spend the entire federal welfare block grant. Now, the welfare agency officials have unilaterally decided to start hoarding more of the money while needy families go without help,” said Sheketoff.
“Oregonians should not to believe agency spin that caseload decline is due solely to helping people find jobs,” Sheketoff added. “It is just not true. There are other reasons the caseload goes down. For instance, people are discouraged from applying and the standards to get assistance get tougher.”
In June 2000, the TANF caseload was 16,906 families. In July, agency administrators ordered caseworkers to cut 1,136 families from the program by September 30th, which would lower the total caseload to 15,770 families. In April of this year, the agency told the Emergency Board that it planned on having 16,570 families on the caseload on September 30th. Hence, the agency’s new reduction plan calls for 800 more families to be cut from the rolls by the end of September.
The OCPP reviewed the projections by state budget analysts, figures obtained from a “public records request,” and documents the Center received from welfare agency staff concerned about the new policy to help fewer families.