The Buzz

August 20, 2014

Sheheen: SC Gov. Haley ‘lying’ about welfare-to-work numbers

Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen said Wednesday that Gov. Nikki Haley, who he is challenging in November, did not, as she has said, move more than 20,000 people “from welfare to work.”

The Buzz

A blog from The State's political team of Cassie Cope, Jamie Self and Andy Shain. Email tips to thebuzz@thestate.com.

Democratic state Sen. Vincent Sheheen said Wednesday that Republican Gov. Nikki Haley has not – as she has claimed –moved more than 20,000 people “from welfare to work.”

“What counts as employment at the Department of Social Services is not even a real full-time job,” Sheheen said to reporters in Columbia, adding some former welfare recipients are counted as success stories but earn so little that they still need assistance.

Sheheen is hoping to make Haley’s management of Social Services a key issue in their November rematch for governor.

Food stamp recipients qualify as welfare-to-work successes at Social Services if they find a job that pays at least the federal hourly minimum wage of $7.25.

But Haley and Social Services count those jobs as welfare-to-work successes “regardless of whether they are only working one or two hours a week,” Sheheen said. “That means if a person gets paid 20 bucks once a week to mow a lawn, Nikki Haley’s claiming they have a job.

“That’s what she’s counting as employed so they can make her numbers look better. That’s just lying.”

Asked to respond to Sheheen’s charge that Haley and Social Services are embellishing the welfare-to-work numbers with under-employed people, the governor’s campaign spokeswoman, Chaney Adams, instead criticized Sheheen.

Adams called Sheheen a “hopeless liberal (who) would rather keep people on welfare than help them move into the workforce. This successful program – that has added to our state's massive reduction in unemployment in the last four years – is great news for South Carolina and bad news for Vince's endless political ambitions."

Haley’s management of the state’s Social Services agency has been a frequent target of Democratic attacks. Social Services’ child-welfare programs are under scrutiny after critics charged the agency’s overworked caseworkers could not guarantee the safety of children who later died.

Social Services confirmed Wednesday that some of the 24,859 people that it counts as welfare-to-work success stories still might qualify for food stamps, one form of welfare assistance. But the agency said it did not have that number available.

Also unavailable Wednesday were details about how many of those who have transitioned from welfare to work have found full-time or part-time employment or are under-employed.

In the past, Social Services leaders have touted the program’s success, saying those moved off welfare are “staying off of assistance.”

Ninety-three percent of those clients get jobs and stay off of assistance for three months, a Social Services official said again Wednesday. Seventy-eight percent leave the welfare programs and stay off public assistance for two years.

Of the 24,859 successful cases cited by the agency, 17,000 clients had received cash assistance for families and children. After going to work, they made enough money to no longer qualify for cash payments, the agency says.

Another 6,000 were food stamp recipients who found at least minimum-wage work.

People in both categories, Social Services confirmed, still might qualify for food stamps if they find only low-paying work. However, they still would count toward the 24,859, Social Services spokeswoman Marilyn Matheus said.

Both programs pay very little to recipients.

For example, a mother with a child but no income would qualify for up to $217 a month in cash assistance and up to $347 a month in food stamps.

Both payments would decrease as the mother’s income increases. If she earned roughly $1,195 a month after taxes and other eligible deductions, she no longer would receive any support.

Sheheen also questioned the agency’s outsourcing of its welfare-to-work programs, paying $13.7 million to two companies that had given $6,000 to Haley or her allies before they were awarded the contracts.

One company, ResCare, donated $1,500 to Haley’s re-election campaign. The other company, Maximus, donated $3,500 to the Republican Governors Association’s S.C. political action committee and $1,000 to Haley’s campaign.

The Camden attorney said the program that works with welfare recipients to find jobs is a waste of taxpayer dollars, helping fewer people get off of welfare now than it did before the third-party contractors were hired.

Social Services said the $13.7 million paid to the two companies included performance pay for meeting the agency’s goals. The agency also said it has had fewer cases since the end of the Great Recession, a trend it attributed to the success of its welfare-to-work programs.

“The positive changes that take place when a person moves from welfare and starts working are endless, and no amount of politically motivated criticism will ever change that,” Social Services spokeswoman Matheus said.

“As an agency, we believe that the best way to take care of a family is to get someone a job, and that is something that DSS will never stop working to help make happen.”

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