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Byline: Tabatha Barham STAFF WRITER
The number of people on welfare in Sarasota, Charlotte and Manatee counties has shrunk by more than half since the state's welfare reform law went into effect almost two years ago.
But officials aren't declaring the decline a victory just yet.
"Many are on food stamps or Medicaid. We know they're not making a lot of money. We don't know if they're permanently off cash assistance or temporarily off of cash assistance," said Mike Portman, human services director for the state Department of Children and Families District 8, which includes Sarasota and Charlotte counties.
"Our concern is we don't know what the future holds for these families. Many are still close to or at the poverty level," Portman said.
In September 1996, 4,340 families in Sarasota, Charlotte and Manatee counties received welfare checks compared with an estimated 1,854 this month, a 57 percent drop. The trend in Southwest Florida mirrors that of the state, where there has been a 51 percent decrease in welfare cases. …