Home > Uncategorized > We Ended “Welfare As We Know It” and Ended Equal Opportunity at the Same Time

We Ended “Welfare As We Know It” and Ended Equal Opportunity at the Same Time

Eduardo Porter’s scathing article, “One Party’s Effort to Ignore Poverty”, in yesterday’s NYTimes describes the horrific impact of ending welfare as we know it and laments the direction one party, the Republicans, is taking to shred the safety net even further. While the article does not say so explicitly, it is clear that school children will be the ones who suffer while taxpayers, shareholders, and politicians reap benefits at their expense.

His article pivots on the recent “confession” of Peter Germanis, one of the White House advisers who help write President Ronald Reagan’s welfare reform proposal of 1986, called “Up From Dependency.”

Over the summer, Mr. Germanis published a startling confession. Writing “as a citizen and in my capacity as a conservative welfare expert,” he apologized for whatever role he may have had in the welfare reform enacted in 1996.

“To the extent that anything I ever wrote contributed to the creation of TANF or any block grant, I am sorry,” he wrote. “As I hope to demonstrate in this paper, a block grant for a safety net program is bad public policy.”

Porter then indicates the many ways the block grant concept failed, the most obvious of which was this:

Among the easier charges to make against the Needy Families block grant is that it was not meant to adjust for inflation. It was $16.5 billion two decades ago; it is $16.5 billion today. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, it has lost more than a third of its buying power.

Worse, States used the block grants for purposes other than providing relief to those who found themselves without work and in need of food, clothing, and shelter. As Porter writes:

On average, states use only about a half of their funds under the TANF program to fund its core objectives: Provide the poor with cash aid or child care, or help connect them to jobs.

Ending the poor’s entitlement to government aid is counted as a success because it has reduced the rolls of people on welfare. But that is not the same as helping the poor get a job, overcome dependency and climb out of poverty. Welfare was essentially made irrelevant to the lives of the poor. It is meager yet increasingly difficult to get.

Today only 26 percent of families with children in poverty receive welfare cash assistance. This is down from 68 percent two decades ago.

So… we’ve ended “welfare as we know it” by short-changing those who live below the poverty level leaving 74% of families with children without any cash assistance. And where did the money go? Porter offers his home state, Arizona, as an example of how the money got spent:

Arizona is a prime example of what has happened in states where Republicans rule. By now, only about nine out of every 100 poor families benefit from the cash welfare program, down from 55 percent two decades ago. This has nothing to do with the program’s objective of helping poor adults with children escape the stigma of welfare and get a job, still the best antipoverty tool there is. Arizona simply needed the money for something else.

Specifically, as noted in a report by researchers at Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy, the state, facing a huge jump in the number of neglected children put in foster care, needed more money to “plug state budget gaps and to fund child protection, foster care and adoption services.” Rather than ask state taxpayers to help fill the gap, lawmakers took it from the pockets of poor people.

Connecting the dots here isn’t that difficult: the Federal government doesn’t want to ask taxpayers to provide inflation adjusted funds for welfare so it hands the states a fixed amount of money to solve the problem of poverty. States cannot fully fund programs designed to help “poor adults with children escape the stigma of welfare and get a job” and they, too, do not want to ask taxpayers to fill the gap. So… what happens to the children: they end up in foster care… and the money to dud foster care comes out of the funds intended to keep children OUT of foster care. This is the paradigmatic definition of a vicious circle… and it won’t be stopped until someone is willing to ask taxpayers to help their fellow citizens find work so they can escape poverty.

Porter casts the Republicans as the villains in this drama… but the deafening silence of the Democrat party makes them complicit and it was a Democrat President, Bill Clinton, who proudly enacted this legislation. Alas, this is not an issue that has gotten much play in the Presidential debates… but it’s early in the election cycle and MAYBE someone will decide welfare as we know it now is failing too many innocent children and MAYBE a remedy will be forthcoming.

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