September 6, 2012

Don't Fall For It: Welfare Reform (revisited)

I originally talked about welfare reform a couple of years back, during the heat of the Obama-Romney campaign. I thought of this post again when I read Steve Kimatian's column this past Sunday in the Post-Standard. 

Kimatian, in his wandering trip down a memory lane littered with broken dreams, forgotten strengths, and lost ambition, chose to repeated the oft-maintained Republican contention that President Obama gutted the welfare reform initiatives that have been in place since the (Bill) Clinton era:
After President Clinton established workfare and President Bush continued the practice, President Obama abolished the need for recipients to work for any benefits, all toward the Democrat philosophy of requiring no sacrifice. Yet many of those in the program felt this was misguided, as they enjoyed the opportunity to work and the meaning it gave to their lives.
He got that wrong, folks, just as he got wrong the real meaning of Robert Frost's classic, "The Road Not Taken." As the poem notes, the roads are basically equal. The decision to take on over the other was not about actually taking the road less travelled, it was about saying you took it.  That was the point of my post from September 2012; it's what actually happened, not what people say happened. 
  

The Republicans are saying that President Obama is gutting welfare, eliminating the work requirement, simply handing over checks to beneficiaries. Almost makes me want to quit my day job and go on welfare.

The claim, made in an actual Romney ad (not a Super PAC ad) is ridiculous. Rick Santorum has made the same claim. The Republicans so fiercely believe this that they embedded it in their 2012 Platform - not once, but twice:
We salute Republican Members of the House of Representatives for enshrining in the Rules of the House the requirement that every bill must cite the provision of the Constitution which permits its introduction. Their adherence to the Constitution stands in stark contrast to the antipathy toward the Constitution demonstrated by the current Administration and its Senate allies by...gutting welfare reform by unilaterally removing its statutory work requirement
And again:
The Republican-led welfare reforms enacted in 1996 marked a revolution in government's approach to poverty. They changed the standard for policy success from the amount of income transferred to the poor to the number of poor who moved from welfare to economic independence.  We took the belief of most Americans - that welfare should be hand up not a hand out - and made it law. Work requirements, though modest, were at the heart of this success. That is why so many are now outraged by the current Administration's recent decision to permit waivers for work requirements for welfare benefits, in other words, to administratively repeal the most successful anti-poverty policy in memory. 
So what really happened back in July? An Information Memorandum was issued by HHS, with the purpose of 


encouraging states to consider new, more effective ways to meet the goals of TANF, particularly helping parents successfully prepare for, find, and retain employment. Therefore, HHS is issuing this information memorandum to notify states of the Secretary’s willingness to exercise her waiver authority under section 1115 of the Social Security Act to allow states to test alternative and innovative strategies, policies, and procedures that are designed to improve employment outcomes for needy families.
States led the way on welfare reform in the 1990s — testing new approaches and learning what worked and what did not. The Secretary is interested in using her authority to approve waiver demonstrations to challenge states to engage in a new round of innovation that seeks to find more effective mechanisms for helping families succeed in employment.
As described below, however, HHS will only consider approving waivers relating to the work participation requirements that make changes intended to lead to more effective means of meeting the work goals of TANF.
Moreover, HHS is committed to ensuring that any demonstration projects approved under this authority will be focused on improving employment outcomes and contributing to the evidence base for effective programs.
And there's more.  The Informational Memorandum was accompanied by a letter which reiterated that this was all about improving employment, not gutting the work requirement.  Here are just a few examples:

On February 28, 2011, President Obama issued a Presidential Memorandum that directed federal agencies “to work closely with state, local, and tribal governments to identify administrative, regulatory, and legislative barriers in Federally funded programs that currently prevent states, localities, and tribes, from efficiently using tax dollars to achieve the best results for their constituents.”

The Administration for Children and Families took this charge seriously and held a series of consultation meetings with states, tribes, and territories on a variety of topics including TANF. During those consultations, many jurisdictions expressed a strong interest in greater flexibility in TANF and indicated that greater flexibility could be used by states to improve program effectiveness. We also heard concerns that some TANF rules stifle innovation and focus attention on paperwork rather than helping parents find jobs. States offered a range of suggestions for ways in which expanded flexibility could lead to more effective employment outcomes for families. Two states – Utah and Nevada – submitted written comments that specifically identified waivers as one mechanism for testing new approaches to promoting employment and self-sufficiency, and a number of others states – including California, Connecticut, and Minnesota - have asked about the potential for waivers.
States have shown their ability to innovate in ways that help parents find jobs. In 2009 and 2010, 42 states used the TANF Emergency Fund authorized under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to create 260,000 subsidized jobs for jobless parents and disadvantaged youth. Over a short period of time, states exhibited enormous creativity as they developed new subsidized employment initiatives that responded to an urgent need for jobs in communities across the country.
It is critical that we work together to develop effective employment strategies that prepare workers for the jobs of the 21st century. We stand ready to work with states interested in developing innovative demonstration projects that test new approaches to helping parents succeed in the labor market. 
Clearly, the Republicans know that what they're saying is simply not true. And just as clearly, we deserve better. 

Politicians need to stop dumbing us down, stop treating us like we're idiots who will fall for whatever nonsense-filled commercial they put on television. 

We're not.  

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