Cuts to welfare in midst of recession are unfortunate

State officials have little choice but to reduce spending in the wake of declining revenues.

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It's an ironic -- and sad -- twist that at a time of high unemployment welfare benefits are being cut.

Yet, state officials have little choice. High unemployment along with a deep economic recession have reduced tax collections, forcing Gov. Chris Gregoire and legislators to either reduce the amount spent on state government or implement new taxes. To this point, they've done both.

But the outlook for state revenue continues to look bleak, meaning either more cuts or new revenue.

Officials are wisely looking at cuts right now. Higher taxes and fees are ill advised as they will further slow the economy and, ultimately, create a deeper hole for citizens and state government.

Nevertheless, the new cuts aimed at the welfare system will be devastating for some families.

Thousands of families are expected to be affected by state welfare-to-work program cuts, which would grant fewer extensions to families who reach a five-year limit for assistance and lower the income limit for child-care subsidies, according to The Associated Press. These cuts are part of the $51 million reduction in Gregoire's effort to downsize state government to keep the budget balanced. Also cut are employment, education and training services.

Unfortunately, it is going to get worse before it gets better.

Last month Gregoire informed state agencies to prepare for immediate spending cuts of up to 7 percent after officials receive revenue estimates in September. When lawmakers convene in January they could be looking at immediately trimming $500 million from the current two-year budget and might have to reduce spending by 10 percent in the next two-year budget.

Just about every part of state government -- from education to corrections to transportation -- is going to feel the pinch, and so will citizens.

This week advocates for those needing public assistance met with state officials to protest the cuts.

Frankly, they make a strong point. Government has an obligation to provide a safety net for those who have lost their jobs and are in financial peril.

But Washington does have a comprehensive welfare system in place. No, it might not be as comprehensive or generous as some would like, but it does provide many with needed help.

State government simply can't do it all -- particularly now.

"Everything's on the table -- we're open to all ideas," Gregoire spokesman Cory Curtis said in response to those protesting welfare cuts. "But with the budget situation what it is, there's just less to go around."

Those in the governor's office and the Legislature certainly don't enjoy reducing welfare benefits. Doing so was simply one of the many difficult decisions that had to be made in the wake of falling revenue.

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