Do the latest welfare numbers stack up?

An AP Story covers the latest news release from the PA Department of Public Welfare claiming lowest number of welfare recipients in nearly 50 years.

This rosy analysis doesn’t seem to jive with our recent commentary on welfare in PA, so where is the problem.

First, the AP story and news release look only at TANF (formerly AFDC). While this is what people often mean when they talk about “welfare” for the poor, the department of Public Welfare has many other programs to provide assistance to the poor: Cash Grants, Energy Assistance, SSI Grants, Child Care. The largest program is Medical Assistance (Medicaid), which has 10 times the number of enrollees as TANF, and continues to grow. This is important to point out when evaluating how many individuals are dependent on government.

Second, the new release doesn’t cite national trends as part of the reason for the reduction in caseloads. According to the latest national data (which is through Dec. 06, and doesn’t include the latest numbers from DPW), the number of TANF families in PA grew by 3% since Jan 2003, vs. the nationwide decline of 14%.

Third, DPW selectively cites the decline since Oct. 2005, when TANF enrollment peaked. But Oct. 2005 represented a dramatic increase in TANF enrollment since Gov. Rendell took office, even as nearly every other state saw declines. And the new data from DPW indicates that are still more TANF recipients (they don’t identify the number of families) than there were in January 2003.

Finally, the work participation data is suspect, and DPW is not providing many details. In 2004, Pennsylvania ranked last in work participation with an 8% participation rate. In 2006 PA’s work participation rate was 32%. Now DPW is claiming a 52% participation rate. But fewer families are participating in work than in 2006. It is true that the total number of families in TANF declined, but that does not explain the participation rate.

DPW states that 12,737 families are particpating in work requirements (jobs or job training), up from 4,000 in 2004, but down from 17,000 in 2006. They must be dividing by 24,684 to get 52%. Yet there are an estimated 50,000 families with adults in TANF — meaning 30,000 families are excluded from their calculation (See below). In the past, only about 4,000 families were excluded. So it appears DPW is simply exempting familes from work participation requirements to get a higher rate.