Arizona Governor Jan Brewer ordered welfare officials to use state funds to restore assistance to thousands of families who lost the aid because of the partial shutdown of the U.S. government last week.
Arizona’s Economic Security Department stopped providing cash under the federally funded Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program on Oct. 3, Tasya Peterson, a spokeswoman, said by e-mail. Arizona was the first state to halt payments, which affected about 3,200 families.
Brewer, a 69-year-old Republican who earlier this year tangled with her party over her decision to expand Arizona’s Medicaid program for the poor, yesterday ordered that $650,000 from the economic agency’s budget be redirected to keep the aid flowing through Oct. 31.
“The failure of leadership in Washington is placing a heavy burden on our state, our core services and our citizens most in need,” Brewer said in a statement. “It’s well past time that President Obama begins to negotiate with both parties in Congress in order to resolve the budget impasse.”
Democratic state lawmakers and advocates for the poor had called for Brewer to act after the funds ran out following the Oct. 1 start of the federal fiscal year. The Republican-led U.S. House of Representatives and the Democratic-run Senate haven’t been able to agree on spending bills.
About 16,500 families with more than 27,500 children received benefits under the program as of August, according to a report on the agency’s website. Payments averaged $202 a month. About 13,300 participants, or 80 percent, had received benefits Oct. 1 and Oct. 2, before federal funds dried up, Brewer said.
The U.S. Health and Human Services Department’s Family Assistance Office told states in a Sept. 30 letter if they cover the payments with state money, they will be reimbursed once Congress passes legislation to extend funding.
Most states use a combination of federal and state funds for their cash assistance programs, said LaDonna Pavetti of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, based in Washington.
Arizona was one of 11 states that used only federal money for its aid program last year, Pavetti said. Others, including New Mexico, South Carolina and Rhode Island, had funds remaining in the program to cover a few more weeks of benefits, she said.
As the shutdown continues, those states will have to assess their ability to make payments and more families around the country may see benefits stop, she said.
“Our TANF families are the poorest of the poor,” said Timothy Schmaltz, coordinator of the Protecting Arizona’s Family Coalition, which advocates on behalf of low-income people and sent a letter to Brewer asking her to take action. “If you don’t have money for utilities or rent or transportation to work, it’s tough,” he said.
Brewer warned that other programs affecting tens of thousands of Arizonans are in jeopardy if the federal deadlock doesn’t end by November, including childcare subsidies and food stamps, under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
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