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Wash. State Welfare Rolls Hit Record Low

The number of families on cash assistance in Washington has hit an all-time low following a spike in welfare enrollment less than three years ago.

Republicans in the Washington Senate say the downward trend is a sign reform efforts have worked, but advocates for poor families disagree.

Enrollment in Washington’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF program, experienced a recessionary peak in January of 2011 at 70,000. Now, nearly three years later, enrollment has dropped by 30,000 to a record low.

Many changes to the program have been implemented between then and now, including a strict enforcement of a five-year cap on welfare benefits.

Senate Budget Chair Andy Hill, R-Redmond, says the smaller caseload is evidence of a more efficient state government. But Robin Zukoski with Columbia Legal Services says just because the numbers are down doesn’t mean families have moved from welfare to work.

“The drop in the TANF caseload is explained by changes in program policies that cut people off, not by success,” Zukoski said.

Hill emphasizes the drop in welfare cases will save Washington more than $500 million through the current two-year budget.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy as well as the Washington State legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia." Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise. Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. Austin’s reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists.