ANCHORAGE, Alaska (AP) — Alaska has the highest number of families on public assistance in the nation, and the state's rate is more than twice the national average of 2.9 percent, according to new figures from the U.S. Census Bureau.
A state-by-state tally of public assistance rates shows nearly 7 percent of Alaska families receive government help, the Alaska Dispatch News reported (http://is.gd/K6hRAZ). The figures are from 2012, the most recent data available.
Health department spokesman Clay Butcher said seasonal tourism and fishing jobs play a role, as do 140 villages in the state that are exempt from public assistance time limits because of few job opportunities. Most people are limited to receiving public assistance for 60 months.
"We also have a lot of transient types, people who come up in tourism jobs or oil jobs," Butcher said.
Besides Alaska, 17 states saw an increase in the number of residents who receive public assistance. However, none have a higher percentage of recipients than Alaska, a trend that has held steady since at least 2000, the newspaper reported.
The figures released Tuesday by the Census Bureau show the number of families or households in Alaska receiving a combination of state and federal assistance went from 15,757 in 2011 to 16,535 in 2012.
Alaska is not alone is seeing the numbers increase; 17 other states also saw the numbers rise for those receiving public assistance.
The Census Bureau figures include families receiving general assistance as well as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a phrase often called "welfare."
The state program is known as Alaska Temporary Assistance, and provides a combination of federal and state money to help low-income families with dependent children pay their bills.
The state program, like federal assistance, is limited to 60 months. However, that rule is exempt for people living in Alaska Native villages where more than half of the adults are not working.
It's difficult to compare regional welfare rates in Alaska since many Native regional corporations distribute assistance directly to tribal members.
A 2011 study from the Institute for Circumpolar Health at the University of Alaska Anchorage said a majority of those receiving Alaska Temporary Assistance in Alaska are women and single parents.
The U.S. Census figures did not include people receiving food stamps. But more than 38,000 Alaska families receive about $15 million a month in food stamps, according to the state Division of Public Assistance. Of those, 10 percent also receive Alaska Temporary Assistance funds.
Information from: Alaska Dispatch News, http://www.adn.com