Sunday, April 8, 2012

The New York Times Wants to Bring Back Welfare Dependency

See Jason DeParle's report, "Welfare Limits Left Poor Adrift as Recession Hit." (Via Memeorandum.)

You'd have to recall the welfare policy debates at the time. Remember, Bill Clinton signed the 1996 reform bill into law, called the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA). The old welfare program, in place since the New Deal, was AFDC, Aid to Families with Dependent Children. More than any other piece of federal legislation, "welfare" was responsible for accelerating the breakup of the black family and creating the mindless cycle of government dependency. People will often defend the old welfare system by noting that the typical recipient over the life of the program was a white mother of two who had either lost a breadwinner or had become unemployed. She stayed on the program for a period of a couple of years. What people didn't want you to notice (and you were attacked as racist when you did) was the huge growth of black dependency on the welfare rolls. AFDC contributed to family disintegration since the program was only available to single mothers. There were no time limits and benefits would increase with the number of children. While on welfare, families would receive a smorgasbord of public services in addition to cash payments. Public housing, health coverage for the poor through Medicaid, food stamps, etc. --- these programs combined provided families with so much public support there was literally no incentive to find a job. And those stuck on welfare were those with the least skills, especially blacks, and the entire regime came to symbolize the failures of the Great Society welfare state model. Conservative criticism became so significant that even prominent Democrats promoted the suggested reforms (see especially, Charles Murray, "Does welfare bring more babies?", and Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950-1980). These efforts culminated in President Clinton's signature legislation, with its creation of the new limited welfare program TANF, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.

When Clinton signed the bill, Peter Edelman, who was Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation in the Department of Health and Human Services, resigned in protest. He now claims vindication, as the numbers of the poor have soared during the Great Recession. DeParle gladly quotes Edelman at the New York Times piece:
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.

Faced with flat federal financing and rising need, Arizona is one of 16 states that have cut their welfare caseloads further since the start of the recession — in its case, by half. Even as it turned away the needy, Arizona spent most of its federal welfare dollars on other programs, using permissive rules to plug state budget gaps.

The poor people who were dropped from cash assistance here, mostly single mothers, talk with surprising openness about the desperate, and sometimes illegal, ways they make ends meet. They have sold food stamps, sold blood, skipped meals, shoplifted, doubled up with friends, scavenged trash bins for bottles and cans and returned to relationships with violent partners — all with children in tow.

Esmeralda Murillo, a 21-year-old mother of two, lost her welfare check, landed in a shelter and then returned to a boyfriend whose violent temper had driven her away. “You don’t know who to turn to,” she said.

Maria Thomas, 29, with four daughters, helps friends sell piles of brand-name clothes, taking pains not to ask if they are stolen. “I don’t know where they come from,” she said. “I’m just helping get rid of them.”

To keep her lights on, Rosa Pena, 24, sold the groceries she bought with food stamps and then kept her children fed with school lunches and help from neighbors. Her post-welfare credo is widely shared: “I’ll do what I have to do.”

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.

“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.”
Continue reading.

DeParle is the Times' lead social welfare policy correspondent and the author of American Dream: Three Women, Ten Kids, and a Nation's Drive to End Welfare. He is married to Nancy-Ann DeParle, who is White House Deputy Chief of Staff in the Barack Obama administration. It should come as little surprise that the New York Times would resurrect the welfare policy debates on Easter Sunday, perhaps as the start of a new public information campaign for a new aggressive anti-poverty push in American politics.

DeParle also has a blog post up, "The Puzzle of Measuring Poverty." Interestingly, there's evidence of increased reliance on private support and charity among former recipients, which challenges leftist welfare entitlement advocacy:
Perhaps the very poorest families truly have lost income but kept up consumption by alternate means — relying on boyfriends, family, charity, loans, or street wits. That is consistent with what my article found among poor single mothers in Phoenix, who described selling food stamps, doubling up with friends, and recycling discarded cans.

Help from boyfriends can be especially important in filling the gaps, but it is also especially difficult to measure. People tend to keep vague count and deem the matter private.

“My friend, my good friend, he gives me like $40 or $50 a month,’’ said Maria Thomas, a single mother who has four children, no cash welfare, and no job.

The ability to replace lost welfare might be positive — showing the strength of private charity or extended families — but it could also be a danger sign. Several women interviewed for my article said the loss of aid made them more reliant on troubled men.

“He drinks too much but I stay, because where would I be without him?’’ said Julie Hammond, a single mother in Apache Junction, speaking of her boyfriend.
Given the intense racial politics were having of late, and the aggressive efforts on the left to destroy and criminalize conservative speech that's political incorrect, it's a logical development to see renewed progressive support for the repeal of TANF and the rebuilding of a left-wing dependency-style welfare state. As folks have been saying all year, this fall's election is most fundamentally about the size and scope of government. A defeat for ObamaCare at the Supreme Court would strengthen advocates of limited government and free markets. But a win for the White House could embolden progressives, and the reelection of President Obama would likely result in further efforts to expand the role of the state in social welfare and so-called anti-poverty relief. The most likely result of that will be the even greater political polarization of the country along class, race, and gender lines.

The 1996 welfare reform was a monumental success because it reaffirmed the founding principle of individual self-sufficiency in the American political economy. Progressives hate individualism, of course, They worked their best to bring about a system of European-style state socialism here at home with devastating results for the black community. Considering the kind of abuse and utter demonization heaped on people like Charles Murray (who is out with a new book) and now John Derbyshire, who was perhaps a bit overboard but nevertheless speaking ugly truths that can't obviously be spoken in our PC-soaked society, it may well be difficult for conservatives to stand against a possible renascent push for expanded social welfare. But it's a necessary fight on the right. We simply can't afford the types of social welfare expenditures that the left would demand. Frankly, we need to continue moving the way people like Paul Ryan are advocating on budget and entitlement reform. Either way, it's going to take some Breitbart-style political combat to hold back the progressive hordes on these things. So, gird your loins conservatives. The leftists are sharpening their knives.