Arizona’s decision to withhold welfare checks because of the federal government shutdown appears to make it the only state to cut off funding for the very poor because of the budget crisis, according to policy experts.
The state stopped payments averaging $207 a week to 5,200 families eligible for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families after Tuesday’s government shutdown. TANF provides cash assistance and other support to low-income children and their parents.
The Arizona Republic reports the decision came despite assurances from federal officials that states would be reimbursed for any payments they made for the federal program. It also comes as the state sits on a $450 million rainy day fund.
Democratic lawmakers are now urging Republican Gov. Jan Brewer to reverse the decision, even if it means calling a special legislative session to get the authority to tap the fund.
“The rainy-day fund is for emergencies, and this is an emergency,” said Senate Minority Leader Leah Landrum Taylor, D-Phoenix. “This is beyond hurting the families. … Families are relying upon this.”
Landrum Taylor said Department of Economic Security Director Clarence Carter told her he had no funds available to make the welfare payments, which amount to about $1 million a week for the 5,200 families affected.
DES and Brewer’s office did not respond to telephone calls and emails from the Republic seeking comment Thursday and Friday. The Associated Press also left a message for a Brewer spokesman Sunday.
The cuts essentially mean very low income families who were approved for the aid don’t get it, with little warning, said LaDonna Pavetti, vice president for family income support at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities in Washington, D.C.
Pavetti and Elizabeth Lower-Basch, a senior policy analyst at the Center for Law and Social Policy in Washington, said they aren’t aware of any other states that have failed to make welfare payments because of the shutdown.
Rep. Debbie McCune Davis, D-Phoenix, said DES officials indicated “there isn’t money that they can free up to cover this.”
“So the ball is in the governor’s court. She would either need to release emergency funds or call the Legislature back into session,” McCune Davis said. “These are resources that are going to the most needy families in our state. They are families with children who are very unlikely to have any cash reserves to fall back on.”
DES last week also told vendors there would be slight delays in payments because of the shutdown. The memo said the agency was analyzing the impact of the shutdown on its federally funded programs.
In an interoffice bulletin to supervisors, the DES listed the payment programs that were placed on hold Wednesday, including cash assistance, refugee assistance and TANF funds for the Hopi, Pascua Yaqui, Salt River Pima-Maricopa and San Carlos Apache tribes.