The Heritage Foundation
How can the government grow the nation’s welfare roles and undermine efforts to support marriage, in a single effort? It must simply follow the plan outlined in President Obama’s budget: pay states to grow their welfare roles and eliminate programs that encourage healthy marriage in low-income communities. Despite the fact that low work hours and single motherhood are two of the greatest contributors to poverty in the United States, the newly released budget undoes welfare provisions that encourage work and discourage out-of-wedlock childbearing.
Prior to the reforms of 1996, the federal government’s welfare policy was to dish out more money to states as the states increased their welfare roles. Not surprisingly, this provided no incentive to transition welfare recipients into the workforce. Welfare reform did away with this negative incentive and created the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, leading to dramatic caseload declines and a decrease in the child poverty rate.
Unfortunately, these successful reforms were undercut in a variety of policy moves and all but wiped out by last year’s stimulus bill that created the $5 billion TANF Emergency Fund. This fund pays states 80 cents on the dollar for every new case they receive beyond their caseload amount for 2007 or 2008, once again providing incentive for states to grow their welfare roles.
Now, the President is proposing $2.5 billion to expand and extend this supposedly temporary emergency fund. Although the President links the need for this emergency money to the current recession, the truth is that the 1996 welfare reform already created a $2 billion nest egg for tough economic times such as this. Moreover, the funding the President has proposed would not even be dispensed to states based on their unemployment rates, but would merely be doled out based on caseload numbers. Basically, whether or not jobs are available makes no difference as to how many people can receive federal assistance.
Unfortunately, Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) has jumped on the bandwagon with the President, but has proposed even greater expansions to the welfare system. His legislation would allow states to collect as much federal money as they need to support their caseload (provided that the state does not receive more than 50 percent of its annual TANF dollars). Both Obama and McDermott have a clear message for states: increase the dole and the government will increase your pay.
Not only does the President plan to expand welfare, but he has also eliminated the program that aims to eliminate single motherhood, one of the greatest contributors to poverty in the United States. In 2005, Bush implemented the healthy marriage program to help those from low-income communities learn skills for building strong marriages. To replace this program, President Obama has introduced his “Fatherhood, Marriage, and Families Innovation Fund.” While this sounds similar in name, it is in fact just another jobs program, and focuses very little on fatherhood, marriage, or families.
The welfare reforms of 1996 encouraged individual liberty, promoting work and freedom from government dependence. Now, the current administration is moving backwards and pulling its most vulnerable citizens with it. True welfare should help everyone: the taxpayer, who is allowed to keep more of his or her paycheck, and the welfare recipient, who is lifted to personal independence.