South Carolina's welfare recipients will see a slight increase in their payments starting in April, the Department of Social Services director said Wednesday.
Lillian Koller said fewer households on welfare means her agency can partially restore cuts put in place by her predecessor two years ago.
“We now have reduced caseloads enough to afford it,” she told a House budget-writing panel.
About 15,500 households are currently receiving welfare payments. That's nearly 5,300 fewer than in January 2011 and 6,200 fewer than the high in October 2010.
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Koller attributes that to the agency's focus on helping clients find jobs.
Welfare payments will rise by 10 percent April 1. That restores half the cuts that took effect Feb. 1, 2011, when the agency was trying to erase a projected $28 million deficit.
South Carolina has among the nation's lowest welfare payments. The increase means just $27 a month extra for a family of four, bringing the payment to $297. To qualify for welfare in South Carolina, a family of four must earn less than $960 a month.
Koller said she's following through on a promise to restore the cuts as soon as possible.
But Rep. Harry Ott said Koller should be asking legislators to fund the difference.
“I give you credit” for the 10 percent, said Ott, D-St. Matthews. “Why not try to put the whole thing in place? What bothers me is that you're not even asking for money to restore 20 percent. It would appear to me your job would be to at least ask for it.”
But Koller said poor children are better helped when their parents find jobs. South Carolina's payments are so low, full restoration would provide only $27 more a month for that family of four, which would buy little, she said.
“The best thing we can do for these people is give them a job,” she said.
She said welfare recipients in South Carolina are eager to find work. Even a job that pays minimum wage provides more income than welfare and food stamps combined, she said.
“No one's going to intentionally stay on” welfare in this state, Koller said. “They are so excited, so motivated to get a job.”