The number of Nebraska families receiving monthly welfare checks - Aid to Dependent Children - has begun to increase, by about 200 a month for the past three months.

ADC is the last of the state's poverty programs to begin showing the effect of the national recession. Food stamps (now called SNAP) and Medicaid numbers started an upward climb late last fall.

Todd Reckling, who oversees the ADC program, said the economy may be a factor in this increase, though he said it is too early to call the increase a trend.

"I assume the economy may be a factor as there has been no change in eligibility," Reckling said in an e-mail.

"We will continue to monitor the data closely over the next several months to see where things lead," wrote Reckling, who is director of the Division of Children and Family Services with the Department of Health and Human Services.

Other states have followed a similar path during the recession - first higher unemployment rates, followed by increased use of food stamps, then an increase in the state's ADC program.

The ADC program provides a small cash assistance to very low-income families with children (up to $293 for parent and one child). It also gives the family access to the Medicaid health care program.

The recession hit Nebraska's economy later than many other states.

The number of Nebraska families using ADC began to climb this spring.

In August there were 9,062 families getting some cash assistance through the ADC program. That is the highest number since October 2007.

The number of Nebraskans using the other poverty programs, SNAP and Medicaid, continued to rise in August, likely tied to the recession.

Though the number of families using ADC is on the rise, the general trend for the past two decades has been downward.

The number of families using ADC has dropped steadily since 1993, except for a small jump upward during the recession in the early 2000s.

And the number of families receiving ADC in August is still little more than half the 17,482 high, in April 1993.

The steady decrease over the long term is to be expected, according to Reckling, because the goal of the program is to have more people working and self sufficient.

Because income must be very low to qualify for ADC benefits, most people will not qualify if they are receiving unemployment benefits, Reckling said.

"As unemployment benefits end, people may be more likely to apply for ADC, he said.

Once an entitlement for very low-income, single parents, ADC is now an employment-focused program that requires most parents to be involved in training or looking for work.

Today about 70 percent of all adults receiving ADC checks - 6,358 in August - are required to participate in Employment First, Nebraska's employment program tied to ADC.

The rest of the adults are relatives caring for children, or are a parent with disabilities who can't work.

Reach Nancy Hicks at 473-7250 or nhicks@journalstar.com.