JUNEAU (AP) -- Welfare payments to Alaskans decreased by $10.4 million to $63.9 million in the last fiscal year as welfare reform laws continued to move people off public assistance, according to a report prepared by the Department of Health and Social Services.
The welfare caseload has declined 34 percent since welfare reform began in July of 1997, the department said. Of those remaining on welfare, 74 percent are employed or involved in some other work activity.
Officials cited the prudent use of welfare reform savings for the success of the program.
''Welfare reform is working because Alaska remains committed to using welfare savings wisely by reinvesting in health care, child care, job training, and other welfare-to-work activities,'' Department of Health and Social Services Commissioner Karen Perdue said.
For example, the child care budget for poor working families has increased from $19 million to $32 million over the past three years, Perdue said.
Gov. Tony Knowles unveiled the report during a dedication of the transformation of the Anchorage Welfare Office into a new Anchorage Job Center. The center is the first in the state to offer child care to help job seekers.
However, Knowles warned that a deadline in the welfare reform law is fast approaching. Alaska adults can only be on welfare for a total of five years, and those who were on public assistance when the law kicked in will reach that limit in July 2002.
''That means tough moments await some Alaska families,'' Knowles said. ''We still need to move thousands more people into the work force over the next two years.''
Some Alaskans, including those in rural villages with chronically high unemployment, will be exempted for the 5-year limit.
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