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We meet Corrin in a homeless shelter, COMEA House, in Cheyenne. She's 20. Her tiny daughter, Alaina, is seven weeks old. The young mother and child are clearly favorites among the down-and-out men who mostly populate the shelter. Corrin is bright and well-spoken. She never pictured herself homeless.

A year earlier, she was working at a hospital in Wheatland, Wyoming and studying to become a certified nurse's assistant. That's when she got pregnant. Her boyfriend disappeared, insisting the baby wasn't his. That was just the beginning of her troubles. Corrin got sick with preeclampsia and had to quit work and school to go on bed rest. (Her parents are divorced and live in California and she says they're no help to her.) So when her money ran out in Wheatland, Corrin moved to Cheyenne, thinking she'd find more help in a bigger town. But with her baby not yet born, she didn't qualify for state assistance.

Corrin Conticello missed a deadline and lost her welfare check.

"So I stayed with a friend here, and, well, that went to kaputs because ... her husband didn't want me living there. So I went into labor with Alaina, and when I got out, we had no place to go. Except here to the COMEA."

At the moment, though, Corrin's in a buoyant mood. She's about to become one of the rare single moms to get a check through POWER, the state welfare program that Wyoming created in the wake of the 1996 welfare reforms. With POWER, Wyoming has taken President Clinton's famous pledge to "end welfare as we know it" almost to its logical conclusion. In 1996, about 5,000 Wyoming families received a welfare check. Ten years later, the state has cut that number down to just 300-plus households, and most of those are "child only" cases in which the mother of the child is gone from the picture, in jail or on drugs, and the state is paying cash assistance to a grandparent or other caregiver to support the child. The more typical welfare mom, a single woman with children, is almost extinct in Wyoming. Corrin qualifies, briefly, for a check under the POWER program because she has a new-born baby. The next day, a friend gives her a ride to the Department of Family Services office and she picks up her first POWER check-for $205.

"I'm very thankful," Corrin says. "A lot of people are like, 'What can you do with $205 a month?' Well, when you only have 50 cents a month in your pocket that you find on the side of the street, you can stretch $205 extremely far."

Combined with food stamps, housing assistance and Medicaid, the check allows Corrin to get an apartment and live on her own. But her life as a welfare mom will be short. The POWER program allows a new mother to receive a check for the first three months of the child's life. Then she has to go to work, or spend 40 hours a week looking for a job in order to get the grant. (Most state programs allow six months to a year before work requirements kick in.) The Wyoming system removes any incentive to stay on the welfare rolls. In Corrin's case, staying busy full-time to get a $205 check amounts to a job that pays about $1.25 an hour. Even a minimum wage job pays $5.15.

In any case, Corrin loses her POWER check even before her three months are up.

Seven weeks after she got her first check, she's in her apartment in a well-worn, low-income complex on the flat outskirts of Cheyenne. And she's in trouble. Corrin missed a deadline. She neglected to visit her POWER caseworker to set up a plan to look for work. In the new Wyoming welfare system, it's one strike and you're out. Corrin says she'd be happy to find a job, but she can't find a childcare provider with an open spot for her infant daughter. So how will Corrin and Alaina get by? If Corrin has specific plans, she's not telling us what they are.

"You gotta do what you gotta do," she says. "My daughter is the most important thing to me. I'm going to get her what she needs." Corrin begins to cry as she talks about the fancy toys some mothers can buy for their children. "My daughter doesn't have that. My daughter won't have that because I'm a single mom," Corrin says. "No one said it would be easy to be a single mom."

We try to keep track of Corrin, without success. Her cell phone goes out of service. The people she had connections with in Cheyenne, at a church and the homeless shelter, have lost touch with her, too. We don't know what's become of her.


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