LA Times Probes Welfare Reform Effects Features ARS Services

LOS ANGELES–In its Monday edition–the Los Angeles Times–in an extensive story–examined the effects of the new Welfare Reform Act–elemen’s of which will be implemented in Semptember. In the article–writer Efrain Hernandez–Jr. featured the services of the Armenian Relief Society and their concerns with the new reforms. The text of the article follows in its entirety: Fears Rise as Welfare Cuts Near EFRAIN HERNANDEZ–JR. From The Los Angeles Times Louisa Gourjian sees people every week who are desperately poor and overwhelmed by fear. The threat of losing food stamps and other benefits under the new federal welfare reforms effective next month has both recipients and social service agencies on edge about the future.

"We are really scared," said Gourjian–assistant director of the Armenian Relief Society in Glendale. "Some of them are really hopeless. Some clients," she said–"are even contemplating suicide."

Other immigrant groups throughout the region are experiencing similar anxieties. Under the federal welfare law enacted last year–an estimated 243,000 legal immigran’s in California and 500,000 nationwide by late summer were likely to lose Supplemental Security Income–as cash benefit for the aged–blind and disabled. Hundreds of thousands more immigran’s were expected to lose food stamps.

And although last week’s budget agreement between the White House and Republican negotiators calls for the restoration of SSI checks to elderly and disabled legal immigran’s–thousands of residents remain unsure of what to do next.

Several social service workers said a rush is on now for legal immigran’s to become U.S. citizens to keep from losing benefits.

Their success is limited–however–because the process takes months.

In addition–residents who usually would not turn to social service agencies for help are doing so as a last resort.

"Notices are going out this month informing recipients of the end of benefits–and social service agencies will become even more swamped," said Susan Ng–executive director of the Asian and Pacific Islander Council of the San Fernando Valley.

"It will be a very frustrating process–especially for people who have limited English skills," said Ng–whose Northridge based agency acts as an information and referral service. "I think it will be a real hard time."

The welfare reform issue has been a moving target in Washington. Critics of a budget deal endorsed July 28 by the White House and Republican leaders say it undercuts welfare reform and will result in fewer welfare recipients becoming self-sufficient.

For example–some critics say–the plan extends as range of employee benefits to those who must perform public-sector and community-service jobs as a condition of aid. Others oppose allowing states to include high school and vocational students in their required efforts to put a growing proportion of welfare recipients to work.

Local activists emphasized that many immigran’s already are failing to make ends meet. Many cannot find jobs. And often their difficulty speaking English is a severe handicap.

Gourjian–who has worked at the agency nine years–said conditions are the worst she has seen. One 90-year -old man was so concerned recently that he asked her to find him a job.

"Who is going to hire a 90-year-old person?" she said–"I told him it’s very difficutl to find him a place to work. If someone feels sorry for him…That’s the only kind of job I can imagine anyone giving him."

Ng said that some assistance is provide through churches–temples and community centers but much more is needed. "Residents of the Valley–for example–may turn to more established–and better staffed–agencies based in Los Angeles," she said.

I think a lot of our people will hike over the hill and say–I need some help–she said. We don’t know how overwhelming its going to be yet.

A UCLA study released last week on welfare recipients showed that immigrant groups vary widely in the readiness with which they turn to public assistance.

According to the study–poor immigran’s from Mexico and Central America generally are less likely than the overall poor U.S. population to receive major benefits. Low-income Filipinos–Vietnamese and Cubans are relatively high users of public assistance–according to the study.

It makes a powerful statement that [government assistance] is not just a Latino issue–said Dennis Kao–immigrant welfare policy coordinator for the Los Angeles-based Asian Pacific American Legal Center. In general–there are a lot of stereotypes when it comes to welfare.

The reasons for disparity are many–including immigration status and age–and the study does not review the potential disproportionate influence on public benefits of the nearly 7 million Mexican immigran’s in the nation–by far the largest immigrant group.

Some observers said that the poverty among many Mexican and Central American immigran’s is severe–meaning that their overall use of public assistance is bound to be high.

Meanwhile–the Census Bureau shows that immigran’s–although many of them tend to move out of poverty over time–are much more likely to be welfare recipients than U.S.-born residents. The bureau found that more than 22 percent of the foreign-born live in poverty–compared with less than 13 percent of U.S. natives.

Jaime Flores–executive director of El Rescate social service agency in Los Angeles–said welfare reform could lead more people of all ethnicities into a social limbo.

"All groups use it," Flores said of public assistance. "What’s going to happen to these people?"

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