When Congress made sweeping changes to the nation’s welfare system in the late 1990s, states were given five years of funding with a directive to wean people from government aid.
That five year period ends Sept. 30 in Alameda County, and because of the right-leaning politics and priorities in the White House, local leaders are worried that funding for county welfare programs will dry up.
“We’re talking about helping our community at large, not just individuals who need a safety net,” said County Supervisor Keith Carson at a town hall meeting in Oakland Tuesday night.
Carson noted recent increases in local crime and suggested that an underfunded welfare system would only exasperate this growing problem.
In California, government assistance is provided through the state’s CalWORKS program. Started in 1996 in response to congressional demands for welfare reform, CalWORKS aims to move welfare dependents toward self-sufficiency by providing jobs, education and other social services.
In Berkeley, about 500 families are enrolled in CalWORKS, according to the county’s Social Services Agency.
Concerns about serving these families was the main topic of Tuesday’s meeting.
“We’ll have to tell people ‘You will not be eligible for benefits for the rest of your life,’ ” said Chet Hewit, director of the Social Services Agency. “This has never happened before.”
Congress is working on legislation that would renew funding for state welfare programs, according to Carson’s office. But local leaders worry that the funding won’t come quick enough and will be insufficient.
In light of pending shortfalls, Carson pledged to work with county leaders during the next few months to maintain adequate levels of welfare services.