Deadline looms for many on the city’s welfare rolls

For hundreds of New Haven families, the only thing left to do is wait.

Beginning Monday, hundreds of New Haven residents will no longer be receiving welfare checks — the first group to be dropped off the rolls in the aftermath of the Welfare Reform Act of 1996. The federal law put a five-year lifetime limit on welfare benefits, and more than 300 city families will reach that limit Oct. 1.

Those families will include 600 children, and 50 to 60 additional families are expected to be cut off each month. Social service agencies will not likely be able to handle the greater burden placed on them.

“Basically, the prediction is that these people will become homeless,” said Beth Rubenstein ’03, coordinator of the Yale Hunger and Homelessness Action Project. “It’s very hard to respond on an activism level because the decisions have already been made.”

The city plans to expand hours at its emergency homeless shelters.

The average family that will lose benefits has three children, and the head of the household in 60 percent of these families has no high school education.

“It sort of trickles down past just the mothers,” said Julio Gonzalez, the manager of Mayor John DeStefano Jr.’s re-election campaign. “It affects children, the peers of those children and entire neighborhoods.”

Although the deadline hasn’t arrived yet, many families are already feeling the consequences of the change.

“The city would tell you that welfare ends Oct. 1, but a lot of people really received their last check as early as Sept. 1,” YHHAP coordinator Lindsay Stradley ’03 said.

Not all of the parents affected are jobless — 127 of those being cut off are currently working, with an average weekly salary of $122.61.

That doesn’t go very far in Connecticut, which was rated by the National Low Income Housing Coalition in 2000 as the sixth least affordable state in the country. It is estimated that a worker needs to make $15.67 an hour to afford even a modest two-bedroom apartment.

YHHAP and the Board of Aldermen are still looking for possible ways to support the families. Some services, such as food stamps, child care and heating assistance, may still be available after Oct. 1 to those who meet income eligibility requirements. However, the lack of monthly checks will force many families to move into abandoned houses, which pose safety hazards.

“The changes in how we administer welfare require a substantial social investment,” Gonzalez said. “We need to increase income support and expand educational opportunities.”

Although some politicians are pushing for a reconstruction rather than a scaling back of the current system, at the moment these families will have few options next week.

“It’s not that the social service providers aren’t aware of it,” Stradley said. “It’s just that the funds aren’t there.”

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