A few days ago the Department of Health and Human Services adopted a change in policy that “ends welfare reform as we know it,” according to Rep. Dave Camp, chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee. HHS has decided to grant waivers to states that will knock out the keystone of the welfare-reform arch: the work requirement. That requirement helped cut welfare rolls in half. But now states will be able to “test alternative and innovative strategies,” including “multi-year career pathways” and “a comprehensive universal engagement system,” whatever that is. Neoliberal Mickey Kaus calls it, probably correctly, a “stay-on-the-dole-while-we-keep-you-busy-with-anything-other-than-actual-work” system.
The Department of Agriculture also has been doing its part for the welfare state: It has been producing Spanish-language radio novelas dramatizing the desirability of signing up for food stamps, or whatWashington calls the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). “Will Claudia convince Ramon to apply for SNAP? Don’t miss our next episode of Hope Park!” concluded a typical spot. (Once word of the campaign spread, the department deep-sixed it.)
In short, writes A. Barton Hinkle, the USDA is not merely making sure that people who want food stamps know how to access them. It is trying to sign up people who don’t want them in the first place.