Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey said Thursday that he won’t seek to reverse cuts to the state’s welfare program made when the state appeared to be facing a major budget crunch, despite a dramatic turnaround in finances.
The Republican governor said that he instead wants government to provide opportunities for the poor and prevent them from being ‘trapped in these government programs.”
Ducey was asked about his plans by The Associated Press after he told hundreds of Department of Economic Security employees: “Our No. 1 obligation not only as public servants but as human beings is to care for those who cannot care for themselves.”
DES is the state’s social welfare agency and oversees welfare, unemployment, child support services and many other programs.
Ducey’s first-year budget limited Arizona families to no more than one year of cash welfare benefits in their lifetime, the shortest period in the nation. The state was facing a possible $1 billion deficit when the law passed in the spring but now expects a $650 million surplus next year.
The general relief welfare program provides up to $278 a month for a family of three and was limited to two years of eligibility.
The cuts approved by the GOP-led Legislature and signed into law by Ducey will lead to 1,600 families being thrown off the state’s welfare rolls starting July 1, 2016. There are exemptions in the new law for some people, including those with disabilities are who are homeless.
The plan is expected to save $4 million in spending in the 2017 budget year and will use the money instead to help fund the state’s child safety agency.
The money is actually federal funds provided to Arizona in a block grant for social welfare programs. Limiting general relief eligibility allows Arizona to use the money in other ways.
Democrats complained bitterly about the cuts when the budget that included the cuts was enacted in March.
“We’re talking about a cash benefit that ultimately goes to take care of food or diapers or whatever necessities the poorest of the poor need,” House Minority Whip Rebecca Rios, D-Phoenix, said at the time. “In fact, it absolutely puts more of the most vulnerable in jeopardy.”
Ducey has defended the cuts, saying they are designed to encourage welfare recipients to find a job. On Thursday, he repeated that intent.
“I think the first role of DES is to help set a social safety net that allows people to enter the workforce, get the help they need and provide the services they need,” the governor said. “It’s part of the reason we’re so focused on growing our economy and having help wanted signs available and having educational opportunities or work training. I want to see people not stuck in a government agency or services. I wanted to see them be able to go out and work and have a productive life.”
The cuts bringing Arizona’s lifetime welfare benefits to one year are the third- time limit cut in five years. They were cut from five years to three in 2010 and to two years in 2011.