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By Sean Gorman December 19, 2016

Bryce Reeves says single mom can make almost $50,000 a year on public dole

State Sen. Bryce Reeves is running in a crowded Republican primary field for lieutenant governor on a small-government platform.

"My goal, as lieutenant governor, is to reform taxes, help to get people off of welfare," Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, said on "The John Fredericks Show" radio program.

"If you’re a single mom and you have two kids in the city of Richmond, you can almost make $50,000 a year on the public dole."

We wondered whether that single mom in Richmond really could receive so much public assistance.

Reeves’ claim is based on a report by the Virginia Department of Social Services that examines the "road to self-sufficiency" taken by a fictitious Richmond mom with two boys, ages 3 and 7, as she gradually works toward a higher income level where she can pay completely for her family’s basic needs without relying on public assistance.

She starts out working 40 hours a week at a minimum-wage job, earning $15,080 a year. The Department of Social Services provided us a chart showing the public assistance she’d receive at that wage level for a year:

•Welfare, $3,840

•Food stamps, $2,268

•Women Infants and Children food basket, $600

•Child care assistance, $12,468

•School lunch, $1,296

•Housing voucher, $10,692

All of that assistance comes to $31,164 a year. That doesn’t include the value of medical benefits the three-person family would get. Necole Simmonds, a Department of Social Services spokeswoman, told us in an email that the mom might be eligible for Medicaid while her children would be eligible for FAMIS Plus, a medical insurance program for children in low-income families.

We asked about the cost of providing the fictitious Richmond family with medical insurance. Simmonds pointed us to estimates by the Kaiser Family Foundation of per-capita Medicaid spending in Virginia in 2011 - the latest year available. It came to $4,411 for an adult and $2,698 per child.

These are not ideal figures because they’re bit old and, as we noted, the kids would be insured by FAMIS Plus, not Medicaid. The Department of Social Services couldn’t provide an estimate on per-capita benefits from FAMIS Plus.

Despite these issues, the figures provide an approximation of the cost of publicly funded medical services for the fictitious family. And when we add the medical costs to the other benefits listed above, the family would be receiving close to $40,000 in total public assistance - short of the figure Reeves cited.

Simmonds told us in an email that "the total value of the benefits a woman with two young kids making minimum wage may receive does not add up to $50,000."

When we reached out to Reeves’ campaign, a spokeswoman told us the senator misspoke and said Reeves was not trying to suggest that the single mom would be getting nearly $50,000 from the public dole.

"What he was trying to say was: ‘If you’re a single mom, and you’ve two kids in the city of Richmond, you almost have to make $50,000 a year to get off the public dole," Sam Azzarelli, communications director for the Reeves campaign, wrote us in an email.

There are some problems with this amended claim that we also should point out, even though it’s not the focus of this fact-check.

The fictitious mother loses most of her public assistance by the time she’s earning $33,800. At that point she no longer qualifies for welfare, food stamps, child care and housing assistance.

As a result, she’s left with an income that leaves her hundreds of dollars short each month of meeting her family’s basic needs.

The only major benefit her family continues to get is medical assistance for her two children, and that ends when her income reaches $42,120. But the family is not self-sufficient at this point and won’t be, according to the Department of Social Services report, until the mother is earning $50,440. At that earning level, the mother is able to pay all of the basic expenses of housing, food, child care, health care and transportation.

Our ruling

Reeves said, "If you’re a single mom, and you’ve two kids in the city of Richmond, you can almost make $50,000 a year on the public dole."

Although Reeves acknowledges he misspoke, he wasn’t far off. That mother, if she was working full time at minimum wage, could receive about $40,000 a year in public assistance.

So we rate Reeves’ statement Mostly True.

Our Sources

Sen. Bryce Reeves’ comments on the John Fredericks show, Dec. 4, 2016. (His statement is at 13:45 into the video).

Email from Samantha Azzarelli, director of communications for Reeves’ campaign for lieutenant governor, Dec. 7, 2016.

Virginia Department of Social Services, "The Road to Self Sufficiency," accessed Dec. 7, 2016.

Emails from Necole Simmonds, spokeswoman for the Virginia Department of Social Services, Dec. 8-Dec. 16, 2016.

USA.gov, "Government benefits," accessed Dec. 13, 2016.

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