New Welfare Reform Directive Creates Unlikely Political Issue for Obama

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During the 2008 presidential campaign, pastor Rick Warren asked Senator Barack Obama if he had changed his mind on any substantive issue in the past decade. Obama’s answer: welfare reform. Obama said he initially thought President Clinton’s 1996 welfare-reform bill would have disastrous results. By 2008, he was “absolutely convinced” that the work-centered approach in Clinton’s law must be “the centerpiece of any social policy.”

A July directive from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has sparked questions about whether Obama has changed positions once again, and made welfare reform an unlikely issue in the 2012 election.

The new HHS reform aims to broaden the role of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which provides cash and work assistance to poor families that meet certain requirements, such as undergoing job training or maintaining high secondary school attendance. The new approach gives states the ability to redefine those benchmarks to make it easier for applicants to qualify for funding.

This switch has drawn criticism from Republican leaders. “By gutting the work requirements in President Clinton’s signature welfare-reform law, President Obama is admitting his economic policies have failed,” House Speaker John Boehner said in a July 13 statement.

Mitt Romney also chimed in: “President Obama now wants to strip the established work requirements from welfare. The success of bipartisan welfare reform, passed under President Clinton, has rested on the obligation of work. The president’s action is completely misdirected.” In 2005, Romney joined 28 Republican governors to support a proposal  quite similar to the new one now; President Bush also pushed a related version in 2002.

The Obama Administration says the rule changes were driven by the states, at least five of which had argued TANF was too rigid to help boost employment during troubled times. “We also heard concerns that some TANF rules stifle innovation and focus attention on paperwork, rather than helping parents find jobs,” wrote George Sheldon, an acting assistant secretary at HHS.

Since 1996, Clinton’s belief that recipients should be forced to demonstrate accountability has been the starting point for every welfare debate. Fulfilling a campaign pledge to “end welfare as we know it,” Clinton presided over passage of a bill that scrapped a program guaranteeing federal assistance to the nation’s poorest families and replaced it with TANF’s block-grant system. Welfare caseloads dropped or stayed static until 2007, when the economy began to unravel.

The block-grant welfare system has its detractors, including Peter Edelman, a former deputy secretary of HHS and one of the three officials at the department toresign in protest of Clinton’s 1996 law. Edelman considers the new reform to be “a modest step in the right direction,” but doesn’t think it does enough.   “TANF is broken,” says Edelman, “TANF in the recession turned out to be useless.”  Why? Edelman points to the relative success of food stamps, which have looser eligibility rules that are, for the most part, uniform across the nation.  From 2007 to now, the number of people receiving food stamps have increased from 26.6 million to around 46 million, while TANF recipients increased by 500,000- from 3.9 to 4.4 million people.  Thus America is feeding its poor better than it is able to help them find a job. America is giving a fish, but not teaching them how.

While the federal government provides the broad work requirements, it is really the state that chooses how active it will be in distributing TANF.  Since each state determines how it will distribute the money, it can be tougher for welfare recipients to get benefits in some states.  In 2009, 8% of poor families in Texas received TANF, compared to 80% in California.

A Center on Budget and Policy Priorities study helps explain how this happens: states that have used TANF funds for other purposes during good economic times can’t reclaim that money when the economy takes a dive. TANF benefits are then cut, and work requirements are tightened.  Meanwhile, states have seen their TANF money decline.  Since the totalblock grant is fixed at $16.6 billion per year, inflation has eroded its value by almost 30% since 1996.  While President Obama did set aside an emergency one-year $5 billion fund to replenish TANF in 2009, the states seem to be looking for a longer-term solution.

The White House says it remains committed to a work-centered welfare approach.  “No waivers that water down welfare reform can be approved,” White House spokesman Nick Papas said in an email.  But Obama’s options are limited unless TANF is restructured, since the welfare money will continue to be parceled out as states see fit. The GOP attacks are a pre-emptive strike, since no one knows whether or not states will take advantage of the relaxed requirements. But Republicans think they can use the new HHS directive as a way to revive the narrative that the Democratic Party prefers entitlements, and the GOP accountability.

24 comments
kumaran
kumaran

as Luis answered I'm startled that any body able to get paid $4058 in a few weeks on the internet. have you read this site 

http://www.lazycash49.com

Brandy Jenkins Shortell
Brandy Jenkins Shortell

Funny that the president cant use any of his money to buy personal items such as clothes.  That comes from tax payers.  Now he wants me to support people who dont want to get a job too?  They should turn TANF into school scholarships and send people to school to learn some job training so they can contribute to America.   This is going to turn into a cradle to grave condition if it is not stopped.   I took my daughter to the dentist yesterday and because I didnt have medicaid,  the dentist couldnt do all she wanted to do.  I had to pay out of my pocket for extra things that my private insurance wouldnt cover.  I work fulltime,  support my kids and pay for private insurance and I am to feel sorry for people that dont want to work.  I have empathy for people that are trying to become independent.  Did you know that the average welfare person receives over 70, 000 dollars worth a benefits? 

anon76returns
anon76returns

"Mitt Romney also chimed in: “President Obama now wants to strip the established work requirements from welfare. The success of bipartisan welfare reform, passed under President Clinton, has rested on the obligation of work. The president’s action is completely misdirected.” In 2005, Romney joined 28 Republican governors to support a proposal  quite similar to the new one now..."

Now if the Obama campaign could just convince him to go windsurfing, they can start buying their re-inaugaration balloons now.  Seriously, there should be a steady barrage of commercials showing Mittens saying one thing on the record, only to totally switch positions when it becomes politically expedient to do so.  The fact that it's so easy to come up with something like the above two (on the record!) quotes for virtually every issue in the election would spell the end of the campaign in a sane world.

Kyle
Kyle

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forgottenlord
forgottenlord

So he adds a handful of alternative approaches to the list of possible prerequisites for welfare receipt but they still require proof that you're, overall, working towards a job. Say what you will about welfare reform, but even within the confines of accountability driven, this seems pretty logical...

ThatsAClownQuestionBro
ThatsAClownQuestionBro

This Alex Rogers guy is brilliant.  Please, more articles for the love of God! 

Seriously though, who is this guy (or girl...)?  Great article.  Can't wait for more.

f_galton
f_galton

Obama has to keep the TANF money flowing so "his people" don't riot before the election.

gysgt213
gysgt213

Don't get me wrong I think its a noble and worth while idea to do everything we can to get people off of welfare and empower them with their own independence.  But you cannot make policy decisions else where that hurt workers, diminishes their rights and protections and expect them to make it in the United States today.

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®©
ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®©

When the right-wing (and their 3rd Way Democratic doppelgangers) begin to make noise about corporate welfare, I'll reconsider dismissing them as the paid prostitutes that they are.

No need to worry about a decision like that right now, though.

~

ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®©
ifthethunderdontgetya™³²®©

During the 2008 presidential campaign, pastor Rick Warren asked Senator Barack Obama if he had changed his mind on any substantive issue in the past decade. Obama’s answer: welfare reform.

A shame that Obama's answer wasn't, "Inviting some phony snake-handler on the make to my inauguration."

~

gysgt213
gysgt213

"The new approach gives states the ability to redefine those benchmarks to make it easier for applicants to qualify for funding.:.

Except this is not what happens.  States instead redefine benchmarks to make it harder for applicants to qualify for funding.

.

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. .

Add to this the fact that people that do get jobs are paid so little they still need a lot of help to make it between pay days.

.

http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04...

Ivy_B
Ivy_B

How heartless is the GOP? I thought they are the ones always bragging about how Christian they are.

bobcn
bobcn

'I thought they are the ones always bragging about how Christian they are.'

Old testament christians. Loudly quoting Leviticus (except for the parts they don't like, of course).

deconstructiva
deconstructiva

Blessed are the rich for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven ...since they bought Heaven in an LBO and fired all the angels.

BlueHueTwo
BlueHueTwo

Bush the Lesser taught them they could serve both God and Mammon.

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

“By gutting the work requirements in President Clinton’s signature welfare-reform law, PresidentObama is admitting his economic policies have failed,” House Speaker John Boehner said in a July 13 statement.

Perhaps he's merely admitting that there are no goddammed jobs because psychopaths like you won't do yours.

Cmdr_Casey_Ryback
Cmdr_Casey_Ryback

Self-pity -- so ugly.

shepherdwong
shepherdwong

"Self-pity -- so ugly."

No, abiding indifference to the suffering of others - psychopathy - is ugly. Self-pity is pathetic and sometimes a  little amusing. I can't help but laugh a bit every time some "conservative" claims they can only believe what they see on FOX because the entire rest of the of the media establishment is so biased against them. Come to think of it, maybe I have something of an empathy problem.

Cmdr_Casey_Ryback
Cmdr_Casey_Ryback

S, thank you for proving that liberalism (D) is a mental disorder (D). Way to go, buddy.

OweBama (D) is the best at killing jobs (D).

nflfoghorn
nflfoghorn

BO is giving the states more control.  Don't neocons love states' rights? 

Paul Dirks
Paul Dirks

In 2005, Romney joined 28 Republican governors to support a proposal  quite similar to the new one now; President Bush also pushed a related version in 2002.

Shouldn't that be the lede instead of an aside?

I guess Republican hypocrisy no longer qualifies as news.......

Sue_N.
Sue_N.

Every other policy that began life as a Republican idea immediately became wrong when a Democrat proposed it. Why should this be any different?

Pauline Houston
Pauline Houston

But you cannot make policy decisions else where that hurt workers, diminishes their rights and protections and expect them to make it in the United States today...ChangeLife5.blogspot.com