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Private assistance needed for West Virginia's poor

May 23, 2002|BY BOB MAGINNIS

The neediest West Virginians will have to do more for themselves as a result of budget-cutting measures required to close a $70 million deficit. The cuts may be necessary, but lawmakers shouldn't be surprised if they result in a slowdown in the effort to get welfare recipients facing the end of their eligibility.

West Virginia followed other states in 1996 by passing the Temporary Aid to Needy Families program, which provided 60 months' worth of benefits.

Now the time is up and some families still haven't made the transition to the world of work. And so a Jackson County lawyer has filed suit on their behalf, claiming that people have a constitutional right to minimum, human assistance.

In April, after state officials said that such a suit could bankrupt the state, we said it made sense to seek a settlement in which continuing payments were tied to aggressive job-seeking and training requirements. But the decision announced Monday puts that possibility in jeopardy.

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The state will cut more than 500 jobs in 70-plus social-service and state agencies to meet their target for cuts and keep Department of Health and Human Services on the plus side of the ledger.

Although state officials said that they would strive to make cuts in areas where some services had been duplicated, The Associated Press reported that a private agency that works with the families of truant children will be eliminated, along with 217 jobs.

What can be done? Government can't do much, in a state as cash-poor as West Virginia. The only alternative is to ask for corporations, charities and private citizens for help. Some non-profits have been successful in appeals that list the cost of services, then asking for pledges to cover those costs. It could be a month of a job training or a week of child care that enables someone to go to work.

Why contribute? Because if someone doesn't break the cycle of welfare, four years from now a different set of taxpayers will be facing the same set of problems.

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