Tuesday, June 06, 2000

Welfare eligibility change to benefit hundreds in Ky.

Longer buffer extends three months to a year

The Associated Press

        The hundreds of Northern Kentucky families trying to go from welfare to work could benefit from state legislators' recent decision to extend the eligibility period for post-welfare assistance.

        The extension, from three months to a year, provides a longer buffer period for families attempting a different way of life, some officials say.

        “It's good,” said Jo Lella Davis, a program specialist for the Kentucky Cabinet for Families and Children who handles welfare-to-work cases in Northern Kentucky.

        The legislature's Health and Welfare Committee made the change in May. The extension on the Kentucky Transitional Assistance Program (KTAP) takes effect statewide in August.

        Officials say thousands of families may now qualify for up to $1,500 if they're confronted with financial emergencies within a year after going from welfare to work.

        The money can be used for car repairs and other unexpected crises. The program may also provide emergency house payment assistance for families losing jobs, and relocation assistance, which provides a one-time payment toward moving-related expenses, when a job opportunity exists in another area or state. Clients also may get transportation and work allowances — three cash awards of $500 each — if they keep new jobs for a year.

        “It helps people when they have some rough spots in their life,” said Janice Kline, assistant director of the state's policy development division. “We're just trying to patch up problems so that a person can stay off KTAP and be ultimately self-supporting.”

        One man already benefitting is Christopher Thomas, now a truck driver for a Lexington company. After a divorce about a year ago, Thomas quit his $40,000-a-year job as a long-distance truck driver to spend more time his children.

        Six months after leaving the welfare rolls, he moved to a new apartment and needed help with rent and utilities. He'd also been unable to make a car payment. The program helped him to stay off welfare, he said.

        “After my divorce, I was basically broke and felt like a huge door was slammed in my face,” he said.

        “But by the grace of God, there are programs that help people who have to make a difficult transition in life, whether they want to make it or not.

        “It's not easy to get by. I know unemployment is exceptionally low, but it's still very difficult to get a job and get started from scratch with a very heavy load,” he said.

        The extension also will help substance abusers trying to change their lives hang on, said Karen Hargett, assistant executive director of Transitions, a Bellevue agency that serves substance abusers who often receive welfare.

        “It's a big adaptation to have them learn and sever lifestyles,” she said. “It's just a big adjustment.”

        Since the state started testing employment retention assistance around Kentucky last October, more than $1.9 million has been given to more than 2,000 families. Money to run the program comes from federal welfare dollars and from some of the money that Kentucky saves by decreasing welfare rolls.

        There are 158 KTAP cases in Boone County, 548 in Campbell County and 992 in Kenton County. The present caseloads are down from last year but not necessarily from welfare-to-work efforts, say cabinet officials.

        Susan Vela of the Enquirer contributed to this report.


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- Welfare eligibility change to benefit hundreds in Ky.