The Truth About Obama and Welfare Reform

Why is it important to attach work mandates to welfare checks?

The old line is that there's a simple way to know a politician is lying: His lips are moving. Odds are good that any lurid charge leveled against a candidate is largely fraudulent. So it was no surprise that when Mitt Romney accused Barack Obama of gutting welfare work requirements, fact checkers said his trousers were conspicuously aflame.

They have a point. Romney claims that under the new Obama policy, "You wouldn't have to work...They just send you your welfare check." In fact, no such changes have been made. As written, the policy merely gives states more leeway in their enforcement of work rules, subject to federal approval.

But—and I know this will come as a surprise—the Romney camp also has a point. If the revision wouldn't single-handedly cripple the work requirement, it "has opened the door to changes in welfare reform that could destroy it from within." So concludes New York University political scientist Lawrence Mead, one of the experts whose research paved the way for the "workfare" law passed in 1996.

He's not alone. Romney's critics cite Brookings Institution analyst Ron Haskins, who as a Republican committee aide helped draft the historic welfare reform measure—and who favors granting states more latitude. But he also told The Fiscal Times that if the administration "wanted to undermine the work requirement," the new policy "is a way to do it."

The change, announced by the Department of Health and Human Services in July, was advertised as an effort to encourage "innovative strategies" that "improve employment outcomes." Some governors complain the existing regulations demand too much paperwork. HHS says, "Waivers that weaken or undercut welfare reform will not be approved."

That's good to hear, but it may not be sensible to accept bureaucratic assurances at face value. Early in his career, Obama said he was no fan of the 1996 law that imposed strict work mandates on recipients.

Even Bill Clinton, who had promised to "end welfare as we know it," vetoed two reform measures before signing this one over the objections of liberals. An HHS official who resigned in protest called it "the worst thing Bill Clinton has done."

So it's possible that some people in the government have never made their peace with work requirements and would like to weaken them. That's the suspicion of Douglas Besharov, a public policy professor at the University of Maryland, who in 1996 helped persuade Hillary Clinton to support the law.

"If the Obama administration believes in work requirements, why write something so broad?" Besharov asked me. "If I believed in the work requirements, I wouldn't put in language encouraging states to lift them all."

Nor, alas, can states always be trusted to practice tough love. Enforcing genuine work requirements is costly and unpleasant. A 2005 report by the Government Accountability Office noted that some states meet them with a generous interpretation of what counts as work—including "personal journaling," "smoking cessation," "weight loss promotion" and "helping a friend or relative with household tasks and errands."

HHS noted that one of the states seeking more flexibility is Nevada, which has a Republican governor. But as Daily Caller blogger Mickey Kaus notes, Nevada proposed to exempt some recipients from work requirements for six months.

Why is it important to attach work mandates to welfare checks? One reason is that it weeds out people who are poor because they prefer not to put up with the demands of an employer. Weeding those out saves money.

Another is that it pushes recipients to do something that may be unappealing in the short run—take a low-wage job—but will serve their interests in the long run. Even in today's slow economy, notes Mead, only 12 percent of the nonworking poor say they can't find a job.

Equally vital, a work requirement respects the sacrifices of those who pay the taxes to fund welfare programs. Most Americans don't object to government aid for those unable to help themselves: children, the elderly and the disabled. But they resent subsidizing able-bodied adults without expecting something in return.

The 1996 law addressed that legitimate concern. It has been a great success in reducing welfare caseloads and moving poor mothers into the workforce.

We can hope that in revamping the regulations, Obama will make a good program better. But he could also make it worse.

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  • Whiterun Guard||

    You know who else revamped regulations to make a good program better...

  • Rich||

    Nancy Pelosi?

  • ||

    some states meet them with a generous interpretation of what counts as work—including "personal journaling," "smoking cessation," "weight loss promotion" and "helping a friend or relative with household tasks and errands."

    What the world needs more of, personal fucking journaling

  • Whiterun Guard||

    I wonder if they would count "online debating" or "electronic discussion profligation".

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    I've been picking up the beer for friends and promoting the idea that my wife lose weight so it sounds like I've been working more than I thought.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    Do you have a friend or two doing about the same thing? 'Cause I've been looking for a supervisory position in the Ethanol Logistics and Spousal Reduction industry.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    I think the way to go here is to get invisible furry hand to front a company in that industry. The combination of a female owner, foreign investment in the US's Ethanol Logistics and Spousal Reduction industry, and some jobs saved or created would certainly land us some government-secured loans and maybe even some outright grants.

    We could roll that money into buying some farmland. With federal subsidization of crop failure insurance and corn subsidies we'd be rolling in monocles and top hats -- maybe even spats -- in no time.

  • ||

    Whoa, what do you mean, "front"? I have dreamt of leading a fearless company staffed by rugged libertarians, sailing the seas of free enterprise and engaging in peaceful exchanges for booty and pieces of eight. Also I have already found a crucial part of the corporate uniform

  • Whiterun Guard||

    As my first action as VP ELSRU, I hereby decree that for our female employees, that that be the entirety of the uniform.

  • Cdr Lytton||

    I hope you're including a belt, otherwise that holster is just going to flop over on the legband.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    Well spotted, looks like I just found my new assistant to the regional manager.

  • Cdr Lytton||

    Everyone knows HR policies have to be pedantic or the stupid and smart asses will walk right through them.

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    Of course, I mean "front" in the epic Bon Scott sense, not as a mere figurehead. Plus, the accent will help when you go on TV to promote the company.

  • ||

    I love Bon Scott. Seriously. One of the greatest Australians ever. Jailbreak should be our national anthem.

    I hereby anoint you Angus, and Whiterun Guard's organisational skills make him Malcolm.

    Right, that's sorted. I will now go practise my leer in the mirror

  • Night Elf Mohawk||

    If Jailbreak is taken, then TNT or High Voltage should be the corporate theme.

    When I finally make it to Australia, I'm going to leave a Texas flag at his grave.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    All right, great. We've got the idea down, and it's a freaking doozy.

    Now all we need is some suckers people to do the actual work. Sounds like a lot of paperwork, how about one of the lawyers here steps up to the plate. I'm comfortable giving them 0.25% off the back end.

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    I was out of work for 11 months after getting out of business. Tough on the ego, not that the job I did find, running a convenience store register, made me feel like a rocket surgeon. To make the bills I was mowing lawns, cleaning gutters, removing trees, whatever I could find.
    After twenty two more months of that, I finally found a real job.

    Obama's economy has not been an easy place for me.

  • ||

    mate, there's a quiet heroism in what you did. Hope the real job is treating you well

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    It's going great! Thank you for your kindness.

  • Brutus||

    I agree. It's so easy to hear the siren song of the dole and pile your life's ship onto those rocks. PHoD can hold that head high.

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    I agree. It's so easy to hear the siren song of the dole and pile your life's ship onto those rocks. PHoD can hold that head high.

    Oh, I would have been glad to take unemployment before finding a job... ANY job. I have to say I'm with Ayn Rand on this one. If the government forces me to participate in a program, I'll take the benefit from it. But I can't complain when it ends.

    As a business owner, even though I had to pay into unemployment insurance, there's no actual way to collect. You have to be unemployed "through no fault of your own." And everything is your fault.

  • Whiterun Guard||

    I can't believe you took jobs away from licensed landscapers, gutter flow-control technicians and arboreal (arborial?) sculptors. You vile, selfish capitalist.

    This is why we can't care about the proles. Your destructive, solipsistic ways will be the downfall of the motherland.

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    Been too long since I used "solipsism." Had to look it up!
    But, yes, I believe I will bring the destruction of the Homeland, thank you! Heil Myself! (Do you have trouble typing that, even kiddingly?)

  • Whiterun Guard||

    I used to, then I went to work for some British ex-pats in Africa. Now I can't even think non-sarcastically.

  • SugarFree||

    Been too long since I used "solipsism." Had to look it up!

    Before you looked it up, the word didn't exist.

  • Rich||

    Before he looked it up, it meant "cleft palate".

  • wareagle||

    Before you looked it up, the word didn't exist.
    ----------------

    so does that mean he built the word himself? sacre blue!!!!

  • SugarFree||

    Solipsism means you built everything. Take that, Obama!

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    That word... I didn't build that!

    No, really, if I had come up with that, I would have decided it's a psychological condition, not a philosophical position.

  • Copernicus||

    It took you 11 months to find a cashier's job? I'm not mocking you, but is it really that bad out there?

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    Feel free to mock if you care to. I did. And do. I can't tell you how many times I was told I'm overqualified.

    During the 11 months, I was hired for a nice lab job but the company was shut down by a bankruptcy court 800 miles away. I worked for them for two weeks.

  • wareagle||

    pound,
    how did you overcome the "overqualified" thing? I have heard that so often that I regularly put your screen name into action.

  • Pound. Head. On. Desk.||

    how did you overcome the "overqualified" thing?

    I found a manager who needed someone just to keep the drink cooler organized, filled and fronted. His people just wouldn't keep up with it. A couple weeks later the overnight person called in, I worked that shift and still did the cooler job. That led to an assistant manager position at a different store.

    How that translates into a general method, I have no idea.

  • Palin's Buttplug||

    So now, states rights types are AGAINST more state latitude in workfare requirements?

  • Drake||

    I'm for states' rights and against federal welfare of any type.

  • Adam330||

    States should be free to spend tax revenue raised from their own citizens in silly ways. But not tax revenue raised form citizens of other states. See the difference?

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Yeah, but here's the deal, shrike... YOU, are NEVER for states' rights.

    That's the difference.

  • Brutus||

    Can you possibly make this shit up?

  • Tim||

    Selling your vote is work, right?

  • ||

    Once, no. But if you do it repeatedly and semi-systematically, then you could be looking not just at work but at a business. If you were in Chicago you'd know this

  • Tim||

    Dole Office Clerk: Occupation?
    Comicus: Stand-up philosopher.
    Dole Office Clerk: What?
    Comicus: Stand-up philosopher. I coalesce the vapors of human experience into a viable and meaningful comprehension.
    Dole Office Clerk: Oh, a *bullshit* artist!
    Comicus: *Grumble*...
    Dole Office Clerk: Did you bullshit last week?
    Comicus: No.
    Dole Office Clerk: Did you *try* to bullshit last week?
    Comicus: Yes!

  • Randian||

    Dorothy Zbornak was always a real hard-ass.

  • Rich||

    Enforcing genuine work requirements is costly and unpleasant.

    Oh, I'll bet that most "Genuine Work Requirements Enforcers" enjoy their jobs, and that many would tolerate a pay cut. It's probably better than Repo.

  • Charm||

    "We can hope that in revamping the regulations, Obama will make a good program better. But he could also make it worse."

    Anybody that is still betting on hope and change from President Zero is destined to be fooled.

  • Rich||

    Nobody is "betting on" Hope and Change. The Obama supporters just *hope for* it.
    That way, they're not fooled.

  • Marshall Gill||

    To hope that Obama is going to make the program better you must assume that is his goal. Chapman almost wrote a halfway decent article here, but that last sentence placed it squarely with the rest of his "work".

    Does anyone, Weigel "libertarian" Chapman included, actually think that Obama wants to reduce the amount of welfare? Sure, he wants to reduce the amount of power he gets to distribute to his friends.

  • ||

    i'm bored. Where are Morning Links?

  • Lord Humungus||

    2 minutes away?

  • Rich||

    I'm trying to get them past the damn spam filter!

  • T o n y||

    If the image people had in their heads when the word "welfare" is spoken were a clean-living white mother who just had bad luck, the visceral reaction to it among Republican voters would be nonexistent. I get that libertarians are social Darwinists, but Republicans are only the same when it comes to specific demographics (not old white people!)

  • Drake||

    So if we convince the Republicans that they are all scum, we win.

  • CampingInYourPark||

    "If the image people had in their heads when the word 'welfare' is spoken..."

    What kind of delusion is necessary to think you know what is in another person's head? See a fucking psychiatrist ASAP

  • Mr. FIFY||

    Fucking leftist mentality. How does it work?

  • Sevo||

    T o n y| 8.27.12 @ 9:32AM |#
    "I get that libertarians are social Darwinists,.."
    You *get* nothing, shithead. You're an ignoramus.

  • Calidissident||

    "libertarians are social Darwinists"

    These words. I don't think you actually know what they mean

  • Brutus||

    Hasn't Tony run through that deck of race cards yet?

  • Alice Bowie||

    I am all for work-fare.

    I know it sucks working for an asshole. But, if you keep your salary expectation and cost/standard of living low, you can have the liquidity of job opportunity to tell the asshole boss to fuck off.

    Or, one can always start their own business.

    -------------

    I have mixed feelings about someone being forced to take a low-wage salary after they were making middle-class money.

    Take a programmer called Jose for example. I knew this guy that use to make $130k in NYC. That amount of money (for those outside of NYC) is middle class money. You cannot live in NYC making this type of money if u r a family man.

    He was laid off during the Bear Stearns thing about four years ago. He was never able to find a job and now makes about $60k working with his cousin vinny as a roofer's assistant. Vinny is be charitable paying his cousin $60k, btw.

    One can say Fuck Jose...those are the breaks. Welcome to america. That is capitalism. He did end up losing his home, his wife, and his kids pretty much view him as a loser. He did maintain good spirits. I've tried to get him a job at my place but he's been out for too long, has been demoralized by all that has happened to him, and cannot pass the technical interviews.

    Jose is OK. He's living, eating, and has moved on. I probably would have jumped off the george washington bridge.

    My point is that not only did Jose lose everything, we lost amiddle class consumer.

  • Adam330||

    I'm very sorry for Jose, but I fail to see how giving him a welfare check for doing nothing will help him pass those technical interviews or help him get back into the workforce as programmer. A person losing his job is very sad, no doubt, and I sure hope it doesn't happen to me. But sad situations are not an excuse for dumb policies.

  • Alice Bowie||

    I never said that.

    This guy would never accept welfare. He's working.

    What I'm saying is that a lower wage will NEVER EVER help the individual in the Long Run. It'll help the business owner who ends up with a hard worker at half the pay. But Jose's middle class status will probably never ever come back. He's 49 and been out of the professional market for years. His 401k has turned into a 101k, the house was foreclosed on and Jose is DONE.

    I say that our economy is the BIG loser. His job is now in Chenai India and that's that. We no longer have this particular middle class guy.

  • Kreel Sarloo||

    This has to be the stupidest fucking comment on Hit'n'Run, by the stupidest fucking Hit'n'Run commenter, ever.

  • Alice Bowie||

    That's a very informative comment Kreel with lots of facts backing up your opinion. Keep up the good work.

  • Kreel Sarloo||

    When I encounter a comment that is so full of monumentally stupid that it deserves only scorn and derision, that is all I will give it.

  • Fatty Bolger||

    When I commissioned you to write My Cousin Vinny 2 I expected a FUCKING COMEDY!!!

    You're fired.

  • Alice Bowie||

    If you talk to Jose, he'll tell you that the entire thing (including his education, 20years on the job, getting married, have three spoiled teenage kids) is a comedy.

    He's actually relieved.

  • Sevo||

    "I have mixed feelings about someone being forced to take a low-wage salary after they were making middle-class money."

    No one is 'forcing' them; just let them use your their money to lay around hoping for another high-paying job.

  • Alice Bowie||

    He received unemployment for a while. Once it ran out, he got a job.

    He lives in Jersey and had five people in his family. The median income according to census.gov for NJ for a family of five is $102k. Now that he's a family of one and has no mortgage and his credit has recovered since the bankruptcy, He's in good shape and learned early on that a man is worth Shit once broke (that's why his wife./kids left him).

    Once again, and I'm sorry for not making it clear, the economy is the big loser. He will probably never return to middle-class status. Although he makes $60k with no benefits, he spends no money now.

  • Kreel Sarloo||

    Yes, because everybody is entitled to everything, always, or something.

  • Alice Bowie||

    Yes Kreel, because everything I said above can be summed up to " everybody is entitled to everything, always, or something."

  • Kreel Sarloo||

    When I encounter a comment that is so full of monumentally stupid that it deserves only scorn and derision, that is all I will give it.

  • ||

    "He received unemployment for a while. Once it ran out, he got a job."

    Perhaps had he not received ANY unemployment, he would have gotten a job SOONER? Is that what you are saying?

    CB

  • Alice Bowie||

    Yea, that's what I'm saying cracker Boy.

    He collected $1600/month as long as he could because that's better than the $10,000/month that his old job paid.

    Yea yea yea, I know, he should have settled for a job that paid Nigger wages, worked long hours, and let them foreclose on his house (which happened anyway).

    The right thing to do is try to get a job that pays at least 75% of the prior job for the months collecting unemployment. Why? because if you settle for the nigger wage conservatives/libertarian push for one would probably not have the time/energy/motivation/etc. to find another job paying 75% of the prior job.

  • Sevo||

    Alice Bowie| 8.27.12 @ 7:22PM |#
    "Yea yea yea, I know, he should have settled for a job that paid Nigger wages, worked long hours, and let them foreclose on his house (which happened anyway)."

    Ya know, you just proved yourself to be too ignorant of basic econ to so much as type your name.
    Whoever the bozo is, he was paid X at his last job. The market (assuming he actually tried to get a higher paying job) tells him his skills are worth Y.
    Tough luck; don't bother shooting the messenger, idiot.

  • Alice Bowie||

    What I'm saying is that this guys would have loved to get a job that paid 75% of what he made. He would stop contributing to 401k and cut down on a few things.

    Once you are out of the market for more than 6-8months, you are stale. It is worth trying your best to get a job as soon as you can.

    It was 2008, the market was pretty bad. No one was hiring, he was stuck. It happened to many people.

    You are right...It's tough luck. But no one is shooting any messengers.

    And btw, after trying get a job for over a few years that would pay close to what he made, he failed. I think it was still worth a try.

    If he'd taken the $65k/year job as soon as being laid off (as you libertarians would propose by eliminating Unemployment safety net), he would not have a chance.

    Many people did find jobs paying at least 75%. He wasn't so lucky.

    And stop calling me names.

  • Sevo||

    "Many people did find jobs paying at least 75%. He wasn't so lucky."
    Which is the reason I'm calling names. You offer skills in the market place. If there's a bubble, you get paid highly (and you'd better figure out it's not gonna last and take measures)
    Bubble's gone? What skill do I have to sell? What is the market paying for that?
    No one is due one penny more than the market offers for your skills at that time and place.

    "And stop calling me names."
    OK, stop posting like an idiot.

  • Kreel Sarloo||

    You really don't deserve anything but to be called names. Like that you're a colossally stupid motherfucker.

    However I sympathize with your bud to this extent. If the silly cow he was married to was so vapid and self centered as to not stand by him when the going got tough I hope she's now sitting wondering where her next dollar is coming from.

    The poor fucker is lucky to be rid of the bitch and the fuckhead kids as well.

  • JoshSN||

    Seriously, Sevo is an idiot.

    Not just a "oh, he occasionally says something real dumb" sort of idiot, but more the "stopped watch" oh, he's right for a second, twice a day, sort of stupid.

    The only winning move is not to play. -- Joshua

  • Fatty Bolger||

    We can hope that in revamping the regulations, Obama will make a good program better. But he could also make it worse.

    He wants to make workfare worse, dumbass. As in non-existent.

  • JoshSN||

    Maybe it was a slow acting, marginal fix for unemployment?

    You are arguing against the reduction of government regulation.

  • ||

    The 1996 law addressed that legitimate http://www.airmaxsalle.com/hom.....-c-65.html concern. It has been a great success in reducing welfare caseloads and moving poor mothers into the workforce.

  • Ardelle||

    Even Bill Clinton, who had promised to "end welfare as we know it," vetoed two reform measures before signing this one over the objections of liberals. An HHS official who resigned in protest called it "the worst thing Bill Clinton has done."

  • Tomj4425||

    So what you're saying is that Romney's attacks are BS, but they *might* be true if Obama officials change things down the road. Real solid argument. We should believe Romney because we suspect he'll be right in a few years.

  • Sonderegger||

    nother is that it pushes recipients to do something that may be unappealing in the short run—take a low-wage job—but will serve their interests in the long run. Even in today's slow economy, notes Mead, only 12 percent of the nonworking poor say they can't find a job.

    Equally vital, a work requirement http://hotsaleairmax.eklablog.com respects the sacrifices of those who pay the taxes to fund welfare programs. Most Americans don't object to government aid for those unable to help themselves: children, the elderly and the disabled. But they resent subsidizing able-bodied adults without expecting something in return.

  • Francisco||

    That's the suspicion of Douglas Besharov, a public policy professor at the University of Maryland, who in 1996 helped persuade Hillary Clinton to support the law.

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