July 18, 2012 | Commentary on Work and Welfare
The Obama Administration has issued a directive that guts the successful welfare reform of 1996 - http://blog.heritage.org/2012/07/13/morning-bell-obamas-imperial-presidency-guts-welfare-reform/">a reform championed by Michigan and that helped move 2.8 million American families out of welfare and into jobs.
The reform replaced the old Aid to Families with Dependent Children program with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. At the heart of its success was the work requirement: for the first time all able-bodied adults were required to work, or prepare for work, in exchange for receiving cash welfare assistance. President Obama's directive completely circumvents the law to kill the work requirement and strip this program of the principle of personal responsibility.
Rather than continuing to promote welfare's legacy of dependence-http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/1995/12/bg1063nbsp-why-congress-must-reform-welfare">dependence that lasted an estimated average of 13 years prior to the reform-with the enactment of TANF in 1996 welfare caseloads began to decline immediately. While the four decades preceding the reform saw no decreases in welfare participation, http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/2003/02/the-continuing-good-news">within five years of its implementation, caseloads had decreased by half and the child poverty rate sunk to its lowest level in decades. For black children, the poverty rate dropped to its lowest point in U.S. history.
Michigan was exemplary in its reform efforts. While welfare rolls nationally decreased by around 50 percent on average, the decline in the Wolverine state was a remarkable 62 percent.
Michigan's average monthly welfare caseload declined from roughly 178,000 recipients in 1996 to under 70,000 by 2001. Correspondingly, work participation rates jumped, from 25 percent in 1997 to 50 percent in 2002 for single-parent families - and from 75 percent to 90 percent for two-parent families.
Now, tragically, the Obama Administration is attempting to completely devoid TANF of the principles of work and self-reliance. When the law was put into place, Congress specifically took steps to protect the work requirement, and nearly all parts of the law, from waivers. The Obama Administration is now unjustifiably claiming authority to waive the work requirement.
On the day the directive was issued last week, Representative Dave Camp, R-Michigan's 4th District, along with Senator Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, wrote a letter to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius saying "we believe [the Obama Administration's position] is deeply flawed and specifically contradicted by TANF and related statutory language." In a separate statement http://waysandmeans.house.gov/News/DocumentSingle.aspx?DocumentID=303041">Rep. Camp called the Obama Administration's move "a brazen and unwarranted unraveling of welfare reform," asserting "this ends welfare reform as we know it."
Increasing welfare dependence has been the result of the Obama's administration's agenda from the beginning. Since coming to office, President Obama has increased total welfare spending by more than 30 percent and encouraged growth in participation rates. http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/1995/12/bg1063nbsp-why-congress-must-reform-welfare">The total cost of the federal government's over 70 welfare programs has increased dramatically and is edging towards $1 trillion annually, with no end in sight.
The purpose of the 1996 welfare reform was to help those in need achieve independence through employment. Unfortunately, loopholes and pushback from liberals have eroded the reforms recent years. http://hatch.senate.gov/public/index.cfm/releases?ID=93347db5-d161-4f23-b2d0-fe724a53fe14">Senator Hatch last Friday noted, for example, that over the last decade, states have attempted to use activities such as bed rest, smoking cessation, and motivational reading to qualify as work. While the work requirements were restored in 2007, Obama suspended them when he came to office in 2009. Now, not only has the work requirement been severely hampered, but Obama's directive would deal its deathblow.
Ironically, the day after issuing the directive, President Obama told an audience in Virginia: http://www.heritage.org/research/reports/1995/12/bg1063nbsp-why-congress-must-reform-welfare">"Americans can't be looking for handouts. . . . There are some folks you can't help if they're not willing to help themselves." Apparently for the Obama Administration helping people help themselves means government dependence. And rather than achieving self-reliance through work, thanks to policy changes like these, living off the dole is the new American Dream.
Rachel Sheffield is a research assistant in the DeVos Center for Religion & Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation (heritage.org).
First appeared in The Michigan View.