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A contentious Farm Bill heads to U.S. House for debate. Also on our rundown: gaps cited in protections for small-business employees and nonprofit volunteers; plus power out for much of Puerto Rico; and some warning signs, that increased youth activism may not correspond to voter turnout.

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Arizona Caps Welfare Benefits at One Year, Nation's Lowest

PHOTO: Hundreds of families are expected to be impacted by Arizona lawmakers limiting welfare benefits to a one-year lifetime cap, making it the nation's shortest cap. Photo credit: Gov. Doug Ducey.
PHOTO: Hundreds of families are expected to be impacted by Arizona lawmakers limiting welfare benefits to a one-year lifetime cap, making it the nation's shortest cap. Photo credit: Gov. Doug Ducey.
May 21, 2015

PHOENIX - It appears Arizona will have the nation's shortest lifetime cap on welfare benefits after state lawmakers approved action limiting it to one year.

The Arizona Department of Economic Security will implement the policy change to the "Temporary Assistance for Needy Families" (TANF) program on January 1 of next year.

Liz Schott, senior fellow who works on welfare reform issues at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, says the federal government funds about three-quarters of Arizona's welfare program through a block grant, which is meant to help children and families.

"They literally are taking the money away from the children, and taking that money away from helping connect families to work," says Schott. "They are not using that money for the purpose that welfare reform was created."

The policy change is reported to have resulted from a budget deal reached in the final hours of this year's legislative session, and which Schott says will save about $9 million per year, as the state works to close a $1 billion deficit.

Most states cap benefits at five years. Schott says the current cap in Arizona is 24 months, after the state lowered it from five years.

Jerry Brown, media relations director with St. Mary's Food Bank, the state's largest serving 250,000 meals per day, says ending benefits for hundreds of people means more children may go to bed hungry.

"The one-in-four children already in Arizona that have an opportunity to go to bed hungry, that are part of families who live in poverty, we don't want to add to that number," says Brown. "If you're taking away benefits from 1,600 families and 2,700 children, that's what you're doing."

Brown says half of St. Mary's Food Bank clients have one or more jobs but don't earn enough money to pay their bills and buy the food they need to survive.

Troy Wilde, Public News Service - AZ