Single father: ‘I couldn’t have survived here’ if not for crucial state programs

Under guise of funding education, Senate proposes deep cuts to state’s safety net services

William Purcell of Lacey says he once had his own stereotypes about people who receive government assistance.

That was until a shattered wrist left him needing assistance himself, the 36-year-old single dad said this week. He said he now realizes that some people are just one unfortunate event away from financial hardship, and that the state’s safety net helps them regain stability.

Some of those safety-net programs, however, are facing cuts.

State lawmakers are working on compromises to a new two-year operating budget that complies with a state Supreme Court order to put billions of additional dollars into K-12 schools. The budget proposal passed by the Senate Republicans relies largely on steep reductions to social services.

Those cuts include reductions to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, popularly known as TANF, and the Aged, Blind or Disabled program.

Purcell is a recipient of TANF, which provides temporary cash assistance for certain low-income families.

Purcell had been a self-employed airbrush artist for nine years when he injured his wrist. He had just purchased a house for him and his child when doctors told him he would spend nine months in a cast. His gross annual income plummeted from more than $80,000 to zero.

Bills began to stack up. He sold some of his possessions online, which got him by for a while. But he couldn’t afford to pay his business taxes, so his business license was revoked.

He soon lost his house and moved into a motor home with his child, who is now 2.

“It was a desperate situation. I didn’t have family or friends I could rely upon,” Purcell said. “I had to suck up my pride and come in (to the Department of Social and Health Services). I had to start at the bottom with a whole new job, trying to find my place again in society. Thankfully, there are compassionate people here.”

His caseworker helped him get a bus pass and child care. She connected him with WorkFirst, a job-training and education support program required for most TANF recipients.

“The money is going where the impact is the greatest,” Purcell said. “Without all that, I don’t know what I would have done.”

After a year of rehabilitation for his hand, he couldn’t afford to reopen his business and set his sights on a career with more stability, finding a temporary driver position with Village Vans in Olympia.

Under the Senate’s proposed budget, TANF, WorkFirst, Working Connections Child Care and Aged, Blind or Disabled benefits face substantial reductions, including limits on the number of families eligible for child care assistance and a reduction in transportation assistance.

TANF serves more than 28,500 households each month in Washington state. The average daily benefit for a household receiving cash assistance is $13.64.

Nearly three-quarters of the people receiving cash assistance are families with children under the age of 6, and 78 percent of parents receiving WorkFirst support participate in activities to help them gain employment. Nearly 54,000 children, many from TANF families, receive high-quality care while their parents go to school, go to work or look for work.

Purcell said that he hopes his driving job becomes permanent and that he can secure an apartment for his small family.

When he learned that TANF was on the chopping block in the Legislature, he said he felt compelled to speak up.

“This was a social net for me that really worked,” Purcell said, adding that without it, “I couldn’t have survived here.”

Will Purcell said the cash assistance he received through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program is helping his family get back on their feet.