Paging Mr. Dickens

When welfare benefits the rich, and starves the poor: Despite soaring unemployment and the worst economic crisis in decades, 18 states cut their welfare rolls last year, and nationally the number of people receiving cash assistance remained at or near the lowest in more than 40 years.

The American tradition of guaranteeing cash assistance to the poor came to an end with the signing of legislation in August 1996. Since then, states get block grants, and state and local governments decide how to spend the money.

For example; fewer than 2,500 Georgia adults now receive benefits, down from 28,000 in 2004—a 90 percent decline. Louisiana, Texas, and Illinois have each dropped 80 percent of adult recipients since January 2001. Nationally, the number of recipients fell more than 40 percent between then and June 2008, the most recent month for which data are available. In Georgia last year, only 18 percent of children living below 50 percent of the poverty line—that is, on less than $733 a month for a family of three—were receiving aid.

States are spending the TANF block grants to plug budget holes[PDF], fund property tax rebates, [google book excerpt] and other discretionary spending. Because there is no federal oversight anymore, it’s become a real challenge to find out where all the money goes, once it leaves the feds hands.

One thing is for sure though…it sure doesn’t seem to be getting to the poor.

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