Originally created 02/20/00

Leaving welfare proves difficult



Shedricka Holloway is not satisfied.

She is a crew leader at Golden Corral -- the result of a promotion that she received after working there for only a month. Mrs. Holloway, deemed a success story by the state, gets a new income that will knock her off the welfare benefits eligibility list next month. Though officials are celebrating her and others who have left the welfare rolls, she has bigger things on her mind.

"I will be graduating from Augusta Tech in four quarters," said Ms. Holloway, 27.

Ms. Holloway's success resembles that of many former welfare recipients when Richmond County welfare officials touted a 45 percent decline in local welfare rolls three years ago.

However a report released last week shows that 26 percent of those who left the rolls that year were back on welfare within a matter of months.

Generated by Georgia State University and the Georgia Department of Human Resources researchers, the reports use responses from sample groups of former and current welfare recipients along with individual welfare case data from county DFACS offices statewide.

By examining trends in educational attainment levels of the welfare adults, the age of the family's youngest child, average monthly income, the type of work the recipients secured, and even whether the family has enough food to eat, the study attempts to help Georgia's welfare officials track welfare recipients once they leave the system.

The reports showed that initially in 1997, all appeared to be going as planned in Richmond County: Hundreds who were on welfare locally were placed on jobs. Of the 1,892 people who got off welfare in that year, 75 percent -- 1,428 adults -- were employed by year's end.

But several drifted back. The relapse of those whom officials call "leavers" -- they leave the welfare system -- can be attributed partly to growing pains, said DFACS Director Linda Johnson.

"We recognize that this is a 60-year-old system and there are people here who have been on welfare for generations," she said. "More so than other communities, we have many customers who are generational. They have received welfare. Their parents have received welfare."

According to the report, there are other factors that affect the relapse -- or recidivism rate.

"Specifically, the younger the child, the more likely a leaver was to return to (welfare)," the DHR report states.

Many leavers get jobs -- including those in retail and fast-food industries -- that may double their monthly income but fail to raise the family above the federal poverty level. (For a family of four, the federal poverty level is $16,452 annually.)

"While many individuals may be below the poverty level -- and that is regrettable because obviously the intent of welfare reform was to really help move people out of poverty -- it is not all that simple to move from $3,000 a year to out of poverty," Ms. Johnson said. "Gradual steps will have to occur.

"We don't want to forget about the benefits to the child and the mother of working and earning for self-sufficiency and self-esteem. For this generation, this is more about creating a different mind set, a culture. And more importantly for the next generation, because we will have broken the cycle."

Ms. Holloway said that she believes the termination of benefits for working welfare recipients is too abrupt.

"I am paying for school out of my pocket. That's why it's kind of hard for me," she said, adding that she earns approximately $680 a month at the restaurant, compared with the $280 she made on welfare alone.

Ms. Holloway is like others who intend to dodge the recidivism trap by furthering their education.

After a two-year stint on assistance, Tracy Waldun, 30, received her last welfare check in August; her Medicaid and food stamps ended Dec 1.

Ms. Waldun has been a receptionist and departmental assistant for Augusta Lincoln Mercury since the summer, earning approximately $1,000 more monthly than she did on welfare. She will finish her accounting degree, which she started at Kennesaw State and Augusta State universities.

"The majority of the leavers that fell off the rolls had at least a 10th-grade education," Ms. Johnson said of local leavers. "They are the ones who had the higher reading levels, and in large part their degree of success was attached to the fact that they were able to function at a little higher level and to secure employment."

According the Georgia State University findings, among Georgia's leavers:

  • 52 percent were high school graduates
  • 19 percent had some college
  • 19 percent had less than high school
  • 9 percent had their GED.
  • "More than 60 percent of the customers that are remaining are at fourth- and fifth-grade reading levels and have not graduated from high school," Ms. Johnson said.

    Reach Clarissa J. Walker at (706) 828-3851.