When Congress shut down the government, one of the many programs caught up in the fracas was Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF), the program created by the 1996 welfare-reform law. Spending on the program is mandatory, and normally wouldn’t be a casualty of an appropriations fight like the one waged now. But the law officially expired three years ago. Instead of taking it up again, Congress has simply extended the last reauthorization with each new spending bill. No spending bill, no welfare program.
After absorbing months of attacks on him as an economic royalist, Mitt Romney is hitting back with an ad as dishonest as any you'll ever see, accusing Barack Obama of coddling welfare recipients ("You wouldn't have to work … they just send you your welfare check"). Literally every word after the 8 second mark on this ad is a lie, with the exception of "I'm Mitt Romney and I approve this message." But the welfare attack is an old Republican standby; if the middle class suspects you're not one of them, remind them that their resentment should be pointed down, not up. The real enemy is poor people, and those who would indulge them.
Welfare systems exist to reduce the worst excesses of poverty. When poverty increases during recessions, the welfare state is supposed to rush into countercyclical action, providing a firewall against a growth in destitution.
That’s the theory, anyway. In practice, it’s never been the case. In recent years in particular, the American welfare system has increasingly shed itself of this key obligation.
We have two basic poverty problems in the United States. One is the prevalence of low-wage work. The other concerns those who have almost no work.
The two overlap.
Most people who are poor work as much as they can and go in and out of poverty. Fewer people have little or no work on a continuing basis, but they are in much worse straits and tend to stay poor from one generation to the next.
The numbers in both categories are stunning.
Low-wage work encompasses people with incomes below twice the poverty line—not poor but struggling all the time to make ends meet. They now total 103 million, which means that fully one-third of the population has an income below what would be $36,000 for a family of three.
Whenever Paul Ryan speaks on the need to reform the welfare state, he declares that what the United States needs is a social safety net, and not a hammock. The idea is easy to understand: A net is meant as a last resort, to keep you from serious danger; a hammock, by contrast, is designed to keep you comfortable or—in Ryan’s words—“lull able-bodied people to lives of dependency and complacency.”
The TANF web site, apparently still using its 1996 design.
If I told you that Ron Paul (remember him?) said that Secret Service protection for presidential candidates is "welfare" and he didn't need it, what would you think he meant? Why of course, you'd think he meant that the kind of protection the Secret Service provides is necessary, but sometimes a candidate has fallen on hard times and can't afford to pay for it themselves, so the government steps in to do it for them. And if Paul doesn't need it, it's because his campaign, unlike those of his rivals, is on sound financial footing. That's what you'd think he meant, right?
(AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)President Clinton prepares to sign legislation in the Rose Garden of the White House Thursday, Aug. 22, 1996, overhauling America's welfare system.
Fifteen years ago today, Bill Clinton signed the law that created the program commonly known as welfare-to-work, fulfilling a campaign promise to "end welfare as we know it." Today, there is little doubt that the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act did just that, removing what had been a large cash-assistance program from the social safety net. The decline continues. With the law's federal authorization expiring September 30 and the numbers of impoverished Americans climbing ever higher, welfare is a dead letter in most states.
In December, Monicapredicted that newly controlled Republican legislatures would slash anti-poverty programs. According to a new report from CLASP, several states are looking at a particularly inefficient, costly, and likely unconstitutional way of doing this: drug testing of recipients of government aid.
This week, the House passed a bill that extends Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, for a year instead of leaving it up for reauthorization debate. As Yvonne Yen Liuwrites in Colorlines, this is bad news for progressives. Welfare reform in 1996 was designed not to keep people out of poverty, but to get people off the welfare rolls and, in particular, prevent single mothers from being single mothers by promoting marriage and abstinence for single women.
The Senate extended TANF, the basic welfare bill, which was set to expire after a temporary extension in December, but didn't include reauthorizing the Emergency Fund, a provision of the stimulus bill that encouraged employers to hire low-income, unemployed workers by partially subsidizing their paychecks. The emergency fund expired in September but the hope was that it would be renewed.