A New Welfare Czar

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson declared a “War on Poverty.”  Nearly five decades later, our political dialogue is still riddled with rhetoric that demagogues success.  Clearly, the so-called War on Poverty has failed to reduce the causes of poverty and, like most big-government solutions, created numerous unintended consequences.

After decades of failure, Washington successfully transformed one welfare program.  The 1996 welfare reform law – commonly referred to as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families or TANF – implemented a work requirement for participants that said able-bodied adults should work or prepare for work while in the program.

The law restored human dignity by ending government paternalism and dependency.  The Heritage Foundation’s Jennifer Marshall summarizes the results:

For four decades prior to reform, welfare rolls saw no significant decline and child poverty remained persistently high. Following the historic reforms of 1996, the welfare caseload fell by half. Nearly 3 million Americans achieved independence from government. Poverty among children and single mothers decreased significantly; poverty among black children reached its lowest level in U.S. history, as did the poverty rate for single mothers.

But in July, President Obama unilaterally gutted the law’s work requirements.  In doing so, he ignored the law’s success and his past support for such requirements. Heritage’s Robert Rector – considered by many the man behind the 1996 welfare reform law – explains the stakes:

The Obama administration has quietly issued new bureaucratic rules that overturned the popular welfare reform law of 1996. This illegal move completely undoes years of progress that helped millions of Americans.
Having lost repeated legislative battles to abolish workfare, the left has now gone backdoor, using an arcane bureaucratic device called a section 1115 waiver to declare the actual work standards written in the TANF law null and void and grant federal bureaucrats carte blanche authority to devise new replacement standards. This maneuver clearly violates the letter and intent of the TANF law.

Indeed, welfare work requirements remain incredibly popular.  In July, Rasmussen found that 83% of American adults “favor a work requirement as a condition for receiving welfare aid.”

Unfortunately, today’s media environment is such that the details of President Obama’s ruling were overlooked.  Many self-proclaimed fact-checkers said President Obama was not ending the work requirement, but merely granting states the flexibility they requested.   Rector explains the bogus measure of success used by the administration:

President Obama’s HHS will exempt states from the federal work requirements if they increase by 20 percent the number of TANF cases that lose eligibility due to increases in earnings, a measure called “employment exits.” There are four reasons why a 20 percent increase in the number of employment exits, although it sounds impressive, is a very weak or counterproductive measure of success in welfare reform.

  1.      Employment Exits Will Increase Automatically When the Economy Recovers…
  2.      States Could Meet the Target Simply with Better Record Keeping… 
  3.      A 20 Percent Increase in Exits Is Insignificant…
  4.     More Employment Exits Indicate Larger Caseload… 

Rector concludes that federal government “will now require no one to work or prepare for work under Obama’s post-reform system.”

Instead, welfare recipients will fall into a new policy – devised unilaterally by bureaucrats (i.e., welfare czars), not elected lawmakers – that Rector says will allow all adult work-eligible recipients to merely “engage in constructive activities for at least one hour per week.”  Those activities can be “defined very broadly to include things such as visiting a doctor or looking for day care.”

President Obama’s welfare debacle reinforces the old truism that there are no permanent victories or permanent defeats in Washington.  So the question becomes: what should Washington do?  Rector answers:

Instead of returning welfare to a one-way handout and pouring more taxpayer dollars into an ever-increasing number of welfare programs, welfare-to-work requirements should be restored in the TANF program, and similar work requirements should be established in parallel programs such as food stamps—the fastest growing welfare program today—and public housing.

Finally, total welfare spending on the approximately 80 federal welfare programs should be scaled back to pre-recession levels when the current recession ends and capped at the rate of inflation.

Although lawmakers missed an opportunity to reverse the Obama administration’s rule in the six-month continuing resolution, which contains a “clean” extension of TANF, lawmakers are opening a different front.  They plan to use the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which is a procedural maneuver that requires only a simple majority in the Senate, as opposed to 60 votes.  That vote is likely to occur next week.  Stay tuned…

Heritage: Not So Fast, “Fact Checkers”
Heritage: Bill Clinton’s Deceptive Defense
Heritage: Work and Welfare
Heritage: Solutions for America: The Unsustainable Growth of Welfare





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