COLUMBIA - A new report shows a slight decline in the number of South Carolinians on welfare, but federal changes in the program and state budget cuts threaten the progress, officials say.
The Legislative Audit Council released a study Thursday showing nearly 18,757 people received the assistance in December 2003. That's down 6 percent from 19,928 in January 2002.
Children made up the majority, 73 percent, of those receiving the aid at the close of 2003, the report said.
Before the numbers started to drop, however, the lagging economy and unemployment had sent more people onto welfare. The state Department of Social Services saw a 32 percent spike in the number of welfare recipients starting in August 2000 through January 2003, the report said.
The rolls peaked in January 2003 - their highest level since September 1998, said the agency, which is required to report every two years on the effectiveness of the Family Independence Act.
The Social Services Department, which has had its budget cut 33 percent since 2001, is struggling to keep up with the demand of welfare needs, said Linda Martin, the director of the division of family assistance.
"When times are tough, that's when our caseload goes up," said Ms. Martin, who added DSS workers are handling 40 percent more cases than two years ago.
The report said the state had kept up with expectations to put welfare recipients in jobs, as required, but that might be threatened by a new change at the federal level.
Ms. Martin said fewer jobs and training meet federal standards, limiting activities for people who receive aid. If the state fails to meet federal expectations in job participation, it could lose funds.
More than half of those in the program obtain jobs in the service industry, and 27 percent go into clerical or sales, the report said.