Shrinking welfare benefits for state recipients

It's a race against the clock for Debbie Watson. The single mother of four has to find a job soon because beginning this month, the state of California is changing welfare limits from five years to four. After 48 months, benefits will only cover children.

Watson, who has already moved in with family to cut expenses, is on her 44th month.

"I really don't know what we're going to do," said Watson. "I'm hoping against hope that I will find employment before that time because I really don't know how we're going to make it."

Watson and nearly 600,000 other welfare recipients in California just saw an across-the-board 8-percent cut in their benefits on July 1. It's a double-whammy for those nearing the end of their eligibility period.

A family with one adult and four children, like Watson's, for instance, was getting nearly $900 a month before the budget cuts. Their checks went down last month to $825, and once they've exhausted all four years, a household of five has to survive on $725 a month.

The California Department of Social Services points out that while these families will get a small boost in food stamps, the department had no choice but to lower benefits given current tight budget times.

"All program areas have been asked to make contributions," said Charr Lee Metsker with the Dept. of Social Services. "We felt this was a way to make a contribution without totally terminating the entire program or terminating entire families."

Advocates for the poor say California's income tax levels are the same as in the 1970s, yet state leaders keep balancing the state budget on the backs of people who can least afford it.

"In many cases, the same families are being asked to sacrifice over and over and over again," said Mike Herald, spokesman for the Western Center on Law and Poverty. "We're falling down the ladder."

And Watson feels she can't get up.

"I don't even think they actually looked at human beings," she said. "They just looked at the numbers."

In addition to benefit cuts, the state also slashed benefits for childcare and job training for welfare recipients.

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