Brewer, advocates: Larger welfare crisis looms if federal shutdown lingers
While Gov. Jan Brewer has restored welfare payments to families whose checks were hung up by the federal government shutdown, she warned Tuesday that a larger crisis looms if the stalemate drags on.
Brewer said that there is no state option for covering the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, that 1.1 million Arizonans rely on. The next payments are scheduled to go out in November.
“It’s been very, very difficult and it will continue to get more difficult if our federal government and the president of the United States – if they don’t move forward and get this thing resolved because come November Arizona will absolutely not be able to pay their bills,” Brewer told reporters after an appearance.
On Monday, the governor directed the Arizona Department of Economic Security to allocate $650,000 of its budget to cover cash-assistance payments for the 3,200 families that hadn’t yet received their Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) checks this month.
According to Brewer’s office, about 16,500 Arizona families, which include 27,545 children, currently receive cash assistance through TANF, a federal program that provides temporary financial assistance amounting to about $200 a month.
Tim Schmaltz, CEO of Protecting Arizona’s Family Coalition, said that while he welcomed Brewer’s decision on TANF payments there is more than enough state money available to maintain the safety net for Arizona’s families should the shutdown continue.
“With a $450 million dollar rainy day fund and a multimillion-dollar state budget surplus, we should be able to sustain benefits for families as long as needed,” Schmaltz said.
State Rep. Debbie McCune Davis, D-Phoenix, said the state’s decision to cut participation in cash-assistance programs including TANF during the recession is exacerbating the problem.
“That issue needs to be revisited,” she said.
For now, McCune Davis said, checks should go out, shutdown or no.
“There’s no question that the state has the ability to pay for these programs,” she said. “The state can step up and should step up.”
More than protecting some of Arizona’s poorest families, covering the payments makes sound financial sense, said Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Phoenix, the House assistant minority leader.
“This is the kind of money that does two things: It buys food and it pays rent,” he said. “For some of these families, if they miss their rent payment, then they are out of a house and then it’s going to cost us even more to find them new housing.”