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Friday, April 27, 2012

Plan to limit time on welfare faces attacks in Concord

CONCORD – Advocates for the poor attacked a move to reduce how much time families can stay on welfare over their lifetime.

This House-approved bill would reduce the lifetime limit for New Hampshire from five years to three.

Rep. Neal Kurk, R-Weare, sought the change because some states have shorter limits on how long single parents and children can receive Transitional Assistance to Needy Family Grants.

State and federal budgets split the cost for TANF.

New Hampshire should not encourage residents to move here to get better benefits, Kurk said.

“We should not as a matter of policy have a significantly more generous TANF program than neighboring states,” Kurk said.

Massachusetts has a 24-month limit on benefits but that applies only during a five-year period. After that point, recipients can then get another two years of benefits in that state for the second five years and so on.

“We had a 60-month limit and I felt it important to reduce that,” Kurk told the Senate Finance Committee Thursday. The 60-month limit is part of federal welfare reform law that passed the Congress during the late 1990s. States are allowed either to set shorter limits or, on their own, pay benefits after five years.

Sara Mattson, the staff lawyer for New Hampshire Legal Assistance, said 35 states have a 60-month limit and that New Hampshire is not viewed as an attractive state to locate for those on welfare.

“We are in lockstep with the vast majority of states with our current time limit,” Mattson said.

Vermont and Maine have no time limit and Rhode Island has a 48-month limit.

Judy Silva, lawyer/lobbyist for the New Hampshire Municipal Association, said this bill would only increase property taxes as city and towns budgets would have to pick up assistance for these families once their benefits ran out.

“After the limit were to expire, the burden would go to city and town welfare budgets,” Silva said.

Currently, those on welfare in New Hampshire remain on assistance for an average of only 19 months.

“This is because the vast majority of TANF clients need a temporary hand up to get them back on their feet and back to work,” said Mary Lou Beaver with Every Child Matters, which opposes this bill.

The Legislature made two changes that have further reduced the state welfare caseload by 1,800 families over the past year.

Lawmakers got rid of an unemployed parents benefit program that dropped support for 400 cases. A move to have federal supplementary income payments substitute where eligible for welfare payments eliminated another 1,400 cases.

“I find it hard to believe the Legislature would want to approve unnecessary legislation that increases the risks for negative outcomes for New Hampshire children,” Beaver said.

Kurk admitted that fear of getting an influx of welfare cases to New Hampshire had nothing to do with his bill.

“There is no evidence of people flocking over the border,” Kurk added. “I can’t claim there is a crisis or a problem happening at the moment.”

Kevin Landrigan can reached at 321-7040 or; also check out Kevin Landrigan (@KLandrigan) on Twitter.