Government anti-poverty programs that have grown to meet the needs of recession victims now serve a record one in six Americans and are continuing to expand.
More than 50 million Americans are on Medicaid, the federal-state program aimed principally at the poor, a survey of state data by USA TODAY shows. That's up at least 17% since the recession began in December 2007.
The increase in the food stamp program is even more dramatic:
More than 40 million people get food stamps, an increase of nearly 50% during the economic downturn, according to government data through May. The program has grown steadily for three years.
More than 4.4 million people are on welfare, an 18% increase during the recession. The program has grown slower than others, causing Brookings Institution expert Ron Haskins to question its effectiveness in the recession.
As unemployment benefits run out, more people are turning to what we used to call "welfare," which is now TANF, Temporary Aid to Needy Families. In Philadelphia:
Between February and June, the number of people receiving welfare through the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program has climbed 2 percent in New Jersey to 98,856 and 3 percent in Pennsylvania to 217,884.
Camden County has hovered near the top of New Jersey's welfare rolls for years, fueled primarily by the city of Camden and its decades-long struggle to bring jobs back to the once-bustling manufacturing center. Since the beginning of this year, those numbers have only grown.
TANF is a temporary program, intended to aid people and get them back to work. Obviously, the getting people back to work part is especially challenging right now.
Nidia Sinclair, a middle-aged social worker from Panama who strolls through the office in bright embroidered dresses, says the task of getting people off welfare and into the workplace has never been harder, and her clients know it.
"It's a work-first program, but the problem is, with the economy the way it is, there's no work," she said. "The frustration level is very high right now."
(if you read the whole online article, you may find the comment section disturbing.)
In Williamsburg, Virginia:
Agencies that help people are simply overwhelmed.
In Williamsburg, for example, the number of families on food stamps rose by 28% in the past year. Food stamps in James City soared even higher, by 60% to 1,638.
Many are suffering from losing their jobs. Temporary welfare cases rose by 31% in the city and 22% in James City. Medicaid cases rose by about 9% in each locality.
Adult protective services cases and child protective services cases in the city rose as well, although the numbers are smaller.
As many as 10% of the city population of 13,000 are suffering.
Safety net program budgets have been on the chopping block for years. The need for services is already surpassing the funds available to help people. How much worse do things have to get before our elected officials wake up to the ongoing crisis?
Cross-posted at MainSt/workingamerica.org