Welfare is No Longer a Lifeline

Saoirse Kenney

Recent changes in Washington State’s welfare program have been devastating, but further potential cuts will surely cost lives.

What is commonly referred to as 'welfare' would more accurately be called 'state disability.'  This is not the same as AFDC (Aid for Families with Dependent Children) which has its own rules and different funding. 'Welfare' currently goes under the name Disability Lifeline. It was previously known as GAU and GAX. In order to be enrolled one must be certified by a doctor (physician or psychiatrist) as unable to work for a minimum of ninety days due to a disability. If you have assets of any sort in excess of $2000, you will not qualify. And no matter how destitute you may be, you are excluded if you do not suffer a qualifying disability.

Contrary to popular belief, the majority of recipients are not substance abusers. Of those who are, addiction is not usually the primary qualifying disability which prevents the person from working. There are about 20,000 people in Washington State now enrolled on Lifeline. Each person currently receives a maximum of $197 per month in cash assistance, $200 in food stamps, and somewhat limited medical coverage. From 1991 until 2011 the amount of food stamp assistance was periodically adjusted by the federal government ($79 in 1993 vs. $200 in 2011) . The amount of cash assistance was set at $339 in 1991 and stayed that amount until 2011, despite the enormous increase in the cost of living.

In late 2010 faced with a projected $4.6 billion budget shortfall the state legislature chose to help close the gap by lowering the cash assistance as of January 1, 2011 to a maximum of $266, which was lowered again in April to $197. Further cuts will likely help close the remaining budget gap of $1.3 billion (or $2 billion if the governor has her way so the state will have cash reserves). Governor Gregoire will present a new budget proposal in an emergency legislative session later this month. One idea popular with many in state government is to immediately and entirely eliminate cash assistance for people who are very poor and unable to work. A popular myth is that people on welfare are simply too lazy to work. Who would choose to live on less than $5000 in benefits a year if they didn't have to? Would you? Another popular proposal is to increase sales tax, furthering the burden on poor people in this state (which is already the most regressive in the nation), but that's an article for another day.