Senators vote to exempt census money from income limits for welfare programs

Members of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee voted Wednesday to approve rules that would prevent money earned by working for the U.S. Census Bureau during its once-in-every-decade count of the American population from being counted toward income eligibility limits for two social welfare programs.

An official with the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare (DHW) says the exemption allows low-income residents to better their financial situations without fear of losing welfare benefits.  Rosie Andueza, program administrator for DHW, said that the department wants to encourage anyone on financial aid programs to take whatever work they can find.

The temporary nature of the census was key for the department in the rule change.  “We knew these jobs were truly temporary in nature,” said Andueza, adding that the jobs with the census typically last 10-12 weeks and pay around $11 an hour.

It’s possible exemptions might be coming for other programs. Senators approved them for the federally-funded food stamps program, as well at the state-funded Temporary Assistance for Families in Idaho (TAFI), which provides temporary cash assistance to families in need.

Sen. Steve Vick, R-Hayden Lake, said that income from other temporary jobs in the private sector is counted as income toward limits.  “I think that’s inappropriate to make an exception for that one job,” said Vick.

The agency rules are written so they will be in effect for next U.S. Census, set for 2020.  Andueza, possibly seeking to quell Vick’s concerns, said the agency may discuss the matter when it is again relevant.  “Perhaps if we’re still around in 10 years, we’ll talk about that,” said Andueza.

In the end, however, Vick supported the change and the rule passed unanimously.  The measure must now go before the House Commerce Committee for approval.

Earlier this year, reported that census income was granted an exemption for Medicaid qualification guidelines. “There are not many temp jobs that are quite as temporary as the census,” DHW spokesman Tom Shanahan said.  “First, it occurs once every 10 years.  Second, there is no question a census worker is going to get laid off in eight weeks or less.”

No matter how well a census worker performs his duties, Shanahan noted, he will be out of a job shortly after beginning.  “With other temporary jobs, if a worker performs well they often get their temporary hours or weeks of employment extended, or they remain permanently part-time, or they get offered a job,” Shanahan said.  “We knew none of this could occur with census. It is a one-time, non-annual job opportunity of eight weeks or less. “

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Dustin Hurst serves as the Communication Director for the Idaho Freedom Foundation. He graduated from Boise State in 2009. His work has been featured by Fox News, Townhall, Public Sector Inc., the Daily Caller, Reason, Human Events, the Spokesman Review and more. He and his wonderful wife Julia have two cute kids. The family resides in Middleton.