PHOENIX — Perhaps no law in the past generation has drawn more praise than the drive to “end welfare as we know it,” which joined the late-’90s economic boom to send caseloads plunging, employment rates rising and officials of both parties hailing the virtues of tough love.
But the distress of the last four years has added a cautionary postscript: much as overlooked critics of the restrictions once warned, a program that built its reputation when times were good offered little help when jobs disappeared. Despite the worst economy in decades, the cash welfare rolls have barely budged.
Critics of the stringent system say stories like these vindicate warnings they made in 1996 when President Bill Clinton fulfilled his pledge to “end welfare as we know it”: the revamped law encourages states to withhold aid, especially when the economy turns bad.
The old program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children, dates from the New Deal; it gave states unlimited matching funds and offered poor families extensive rights, with few requirements and no time limits. The new program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, created time limits and work rules, capped federal spending and allowed states to turn poor families away.
Since the states get fixed federal grants, any caseload growth comes at their own expense. By contrast, the federal government pays the entire food stamp bill no matter how many people enroll; states encourage applications, and the rolls have reached record highs.
“My take on it was the states would push people off and not let them back on, and that’s just what they did,” said Peter B. Edelman, a law professor at Georgetown University who resigned from the Clinton administration to protest the law. “It’s been even worse than I thought it would be.”
But supporters of the current system often say lower caseloads are evidence of decreased dependency. Many leading Republicans are pushing for similar changes to much larger programs, like Medicaid and food stamps.
Representative Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, the top House Republican on budget issues, calls the current welfare program “an unprecedented success.” Mitt Romney, who leads the race for the Republican presidential nomination, has said he would place similar restrictions on “all these federal programs.” One of his rivals, Rick Santorum, calls the welfare law a source of spiritual rejuvenation.
“It didn’t just cut the rolls, but it saved lives,” Mr. Santorum said, giving the poor “something dependency doesn’t give: hope.”
President Obama spoke favorably of the program in his 2008 campaign — promoting his role as a state legislator in cutting the Illinois welfare rolls. But he has said little about it as president.
Even in the 1996 program’s early days, when jobs were plentiful, a subset of families appeared disconnected — left with neither welfare nor work. Their numbers were growing before the recession and seem to have surged since then.
The welfare program was born amid apocalyptic warnings and was instantly proclaimed a success, at times with a measure of “I told you so” glee from its supporters. Liberal critics had warned that its mix of time limits and work rules would create mass destitution — “children sleeping on the grates,” in the words of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, a New York Democrat who died in 2003.
But the economy boomed, employment soared, poverty fell and caseloads plunged. Thirty-two states reduced their caseloads by two-thirds or more, as officials issued press releases and jostled for bragging rights. The tough law played a large role, but so did expansions of child care and tax credits that raised take-home pay.
In a twist on poverty politics, poor single mothers, previously chided as “welfare queens,” were celebrated as working-class heroes, with their stories of leaving the welfare rolls cast as uplifting tales of pluck. Flush with federal money, states experimented with programs that offered counseling, clothes and used cars.
But if the rise in employment was larger than predicted, it was also less transformative than it may have seemed. Researchers found that most families that escaped poverty remained “near poor.”
And despite widespread hopes that working mothers might serve as role models, studies found few social or educational benefits for their children. (They measured things like children’s aspirations, self-esteem, grades, drug use and arrests.) Nonmarital births continued to rise.
But the image of success formed early and stayed frozen in time.
“The debate is over,” President Clinton said a year after signing the law, which he often cites in casting himself as a centrist. “Welfare reform works.”
The recession that began in 2007 posed a new test to that claim. Even with $5 billion in new federal funds, caseloads rose just 15 percent from the lowest level in two generations. Compared with the 1990s peak, the national welfare rolls are still down by 68 percent. Just one in five poor children now receives cash aid, the lowest level in nearly 50 years.
As the downturn wreaked havoc on budgets, some states took new steps to keep the needy away. They shortened time limits, tightened eligibility rules and reduced benefits (to an average of about $350 a month for a family of three).
But the number of very poor families appears to be growing. Pamela Loprest and Austin Nichols, researchers at the Urban Institute, found that one in four low-income single mothers nationwide — about 1.5 million — are jobless and without cash aid. That is twice the rate the researchers found under the old welfare law. More than 40 percent remain that way for more than a year, and many have mental or physical disabilities, sick children or problems with domestic violence.
Using a different definition of distress, Luke Shaefer of the University of Michigan and Kathryn Edin of Harvard examined the share of households with children in a given month living on less than $2 per person per day. It has nearly doubled since 1996, to almost 4 percent. Even when counting food stamps as cash, they found one of every 50 children live in such a household.
Read more at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/08/us/welfare-limits-left-poor-adrift-as-recession-hit.htmlhttp://www.dailykos.com/story/2012/03/14/1074416/-Age-16-welfare-reform-showing-that-critics-were-right-The-poor-children-included-are-being-hurt
Sweet, let's send all federal programs back to the states to shrink big, wasteful government and let the states find "innovative solutions" to drop coverage which won't be a problem as private charity will cover the demand