Story and photo by Zeynab Day
Eastern Kentucky University student Tosha Haynes is mother of two, a full-time student, and like many other welfare recipients in Kentucky—she works at least 20 hours a week.
“People like me are the reason the programs K-TAP are in place,” Haynes said. “They give me the ability to be with my kids, go to school and work.”
Haynes, 36, from Corbin, is a participant in Kentucky’s means-based welfare initiative Kentucky Transitional Assistance Program (K-TAP). The program gives cash assistance to families with children who are unemployed and is designed to help individuals transition back into the workforce.
It’s been nearly 20 years since President Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 that eliminated the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) programs.
The AFDC programs were created in 1935 to combat rampant poverty during the Great Depression. The programs were a hot topic for many years and controversy surrounded the policy’s lack of time limitations and job readiness initiatives.
The public still remains unaware of the changes made by the 1996 Welfare Reform Act or confuse means-based programs with non-means based initiatives, creating some common misconceptions, said Department of Family Based Services spokesman Benjamin Miller. The welfare system today is very different. The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families replaces the old welfare system and includes time limits and work requirements. These programs are separate from welfare disability and social security insurance, which are for individuals who are unable to work.
Noted below are some commonly unknown truths about Kentucky’s welfare system.
The Majority of Welfare Recipients Work
Kentucky rates sixth in work participation percentage rates compared to other states with TANF programs, according to the most recent report from the Administration for Children and Families. Participants in TANF are required to work 20 hours for parents with children under the age of six and 30 hours if their youngest child is age six or older.
More than 53 percent of Kentuckians on K-TAP work. The rest are not required to participate in work initiatives because they are unable to work and are receiving disability, are new applicants, or are non-paternal guardians of children and receive K-TAP as child-support.
The majority of K-TAP participants are involved in Kentucky Works programs and are earning job-readiness skills or attending college. Eastern student Haynes works 30 hours a week and has a full-time course load.
“Before K-TAP, I worked 60 hour weeks, and there was no way I could have gone to school,” Haynes said.
Haynes is a participant in the Education Pays Center program at Eastern. The program is part of the Kentucky Works initiative and allows students to utilize their Federal Work Study funds to get paid minimum wage while working at an outplacement that is relevant to their field of study. Any wages not covered by Federal Work Study are paid for by the Kentucky Works Grant.
Individuals not participating in the Kentucky Works Program do participate in volunteer community service or are working in other job-readiness initiatives, Miller said.
Welfare Incomes Fall Below the Poverty Line
Federal guidelines set the poverty threshold at $1327 per month for a family of two. The majority of recipients of K-TAP are single parent households.
Cash benefits for individuals on K-TAP are around $525 a month for a single-parent household with one child. The maximum cash benefits for an individual with one dependent is $225 a month, with a $37 increase for each additional child. Participants in Kentucky Works programs can also receive up to $200 a month in cash assistance for transportation expenses.
Cassi Ann Thornton, 28, from Lexington, said without the Kentucky Works program said she would not have been able to attend Eastern and graduate in 2012.
“I would have never been able to finish school without K-TAP,” Thornton said. “These programs are out there to help people get a leg and better life situation.”
Thornton said K-TAP recipients are not “rolling in the dough.” She said cash assistance was not her primary motivator. She needed help covering her childcare expenses.
Child care can cost parents more than $500 a month for non-school-aged children in Kentucky. Thornton said she worked full time before joining K-TAP but wasn’t making enough to cover childcare.
“I wasn’t even eligible for child-care assistance until I signed up for K-TAP,” Thornton said. “Without childcare, I couldn’t have gone to college.”
Her daughter’s father paid child support and the funds she received were paid to the state as part of the K-TAP requirements. The $225 a month individual receive acts as a child support supplement, said spokesman Miller.
Participants are required to agree to child support enforcement and any child support received by individuals on K-TAP are either paid directly to the state or deducted from the allocated cash benefits, Miller said.
The majority of participants on K-TAP also receive what used to be known as food stamps. It’s now called Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). A single individual cannot make more than $1297 a month to be eligible for SNAP. The maximum benefit for a single individual is $194 a month. The monthly total for a family unit varies based on income and family size.
TANF Programs Have Strict Time Limits
“I think one of the most frequent misconceptions we see is that many people are unaware that [K-TAP] is time limited,” Miller said. “The whole goal of the program is reaching and maintaining self-sufficiency.”
The Welfare Reform Act of 1996 created time limits for individuals on means-tested cash-assistance programs to a 5-year lifetime maximum, which can be split up by months or years. Many individuals in Kentucky never reach the maximum, Miller said.
Eastern student Haynes said she has been on the program less than 2 years and completed much of her college before joining. She is set to graduate with a degree in Psychology and hopes to do research in the future that focuses on the connection between PTDS and drug addiction. She looks forward to being off of assistance and working in her field. She said she will be relieved to start her career and be able to afford more things for her family.
“These programs aren’t there to stay on them forever,” Haynes said. “But they’re here to help you get an education, get back on your feet and do what you need to do.”