Nevada can ease its welfare payments upwards, but the money it is spending on programs to help poor people find and keep jobs is more important.
As reported Sunday by Brendan Riley of the Associated Press, Nevada is spending far less on welfare because its rolls have dropped from 42,000 to less than 17,000 since the federal system was reformed three years ago.
The difference will amount to almost $18 million by next year, from a high of about $50 million in welfare payments to a current level of $27.6 million. Advocates for Nevada's low-income residents say some of the savings should be used to increase monthly payments.
A family of three now qualifies for $348 a month, an amount that one advocate calls "inhumane." The suggestion, agreed to by the Nevada Welfare Board on Monday, is to increase the payment to about $500, bringing it up from 1991 poverty levels. The decision will go to the Legislature in 2001.
Yes, it is almost unthinkable that a family of three could try to survive on $348 a month. We aren't heartless enough to recommend that the amount remain so pitifully low.
However, we are also reminded of the increases Nevada has made in the kind of programs that help people get off welfare and sustain themselves. They're part of the reason rolls have dropped so dramatically - people not only must look for work in order to qualify for welfare, when they find it they must be able to hold a job.
Spending on child care and job training has risen, and we should continue to fund the programs that help people solve the problems that keep them from being employed.
It's unrealistic to think all of the remaining 17,000 on welfare in Nevada will someday find jobs. We'd like to think they want to try.