Get Real

Guess what? RI isn’t a welfare magnet
By BRIAN C. JONES  |  January 31, 2007
Scotland has its Lock Ness Monster.
The Pacific Northwest has Bigfoot.
And Rhode Island has its Welfare Out-of-State Interloper.
Which is to say: ever since nationally mandated welfare reform went into effect in Rhode Island in 1997, the myth has persisted that the poor have flocked to the Ocean State to reap its legendary welfare benefits.
The most recent account of the invasion was passed on by a letter writer to the Providence Journal last month, identified by the paper as being from Attleboro, Massachusetts. “It is not a myth that many Bay State residents on public assistance moved to Rhode Island after Massachusetts enacted stricter welfare rules,” the author reported from her border-watch station. “Living in Attleboro at the time, I heard the stories.”
Not only have the poor rushed in from other states, reports our scout, word of Rhode Island’s riches spread to foreign countries: “They may be poor, but they are not stupid.”
Well, that’s one piece of good news: at least we’re not getting the stupid Interlopers, just the smart ones, interconnected techno-geeks who exchange information over the World Wide Web and use Excel spreadsheets to compare benefits before deciding where to swarm next.
The problem is that, like Nessie and Bigfoot, the Welfare Interloper appears to be just another tall tale.
In fact, Rhode Island may be an exporter of welfare recipients.
More welfare families leave Rhode Island than come here, according to the Department of Human services, the state’s welfare agency.
“Since 2001, Rhode Island has had a net out-migration of families moving to the other states,” the department says in its 2005 annual report on the Family Independence Program — as the welfare program here is called.
The department says, further, that during 2005, 9.5 percent of new families who qualified for the Rhode Island FIP program had moved here from other states. That compares to the 17 percent of new families coming from other states in 1996.
In Rhode Island, as elsewhere, there are far fewer families of any origin on welfare, about 12,000 in 2005, compared to 18,800 in 1997, according to DHS figures.
DHS reports that in 79 percent of the households, English is the primary language. Also, that 38 percent are white, 29 percent of families are Hispanic, and 15 percent black.
And so forth.
Rhode Island’s welfare program is more enlightened than those of some other states, in that it is serious about its welfare-to-work goals. Child-care and education benefits are designed to help parents get the skills to land — and keep — jobs.
On the other hand, the basic cash benefits paid by welfare — $554 monthly for a family of three — haven’t been hiked in nearly 20 years.
Welfare is a subject long burdened by emotional and confounding issues. But one of the most persistent problems is the intractable mythology that surrounds the poor.
The tall stories make it all that harder to really understand what brings people to welfare — or to fully explain why they leave.
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  Topics: This Just In , Politics, Public Finance, Domestic Policy,  More more >
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