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Twenty years since the Clintons gutted the federal welfare system


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Aug 12, 2015
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A great article about how the Clintons gutted the federal welfare system

On February 17, 1993, Bill Clinton addressed the Congress in his first State of the Union Address. While the 1991 recession which brought down his predecessor, George H.W. Bush, was easing, unemployment was actually on the rise. He briefly acknowledged this in his address, urging bipartisanship to help the country improve the economy. Then he got down to business.

“If we believe in restoring the values that make America special,” he proclaimed, “we must believe that there is dignity in all work, and there must be dignity for all workers.” He vowed to “end welfare as we know it.” He continued in this vein, invoking several of the pet themes of the Republican right: he pontificated about the dangers of “welfare dependence” and “intergenerational poverty,” and the need for parents to “take responsibility for the children they bring into the world.”

Clinton’s State of the Union Address heralded a change in tactics by the Democratic Party. No longer would it be the party of the New Deal reforms; by vowing to slash the programs that the Democrats had supported for decades, he positioned himself as the continuator of Ronald Reagan, not Franklin Roosevelt.

Bill Clinton worked with lawmakers to balance the books at the expense of the nation’s poor, cloaking his efforts with flimsy pretexts of bipartisanship and compromise. In 1996, he approved the “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act” (PRWORA). The bill was hailed as a triumph of welfare “reform.” In reality, it represented a thorough gutting of welfare.

Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), as the welfare program was known, had enabled many families to feed, shelter, and clothe their children while they awaited work, finished schooling, or learned a new trade. Contrary to Clinton’s claims about lifelong dependence among recipients, AFDC had actually allowed many people to rise above poverty and get off of welfare. The PRWORA dismantled AFDC, replacing it with Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF)—an insulting name to crown a host of injuries the act would inflict upon families in need.

The bill shifted all responsibility for the program to the states. This time-honored tactic had enabled politicians in Washington to keep the stench of injustices at arms’ length, even as they helped further them. While AFDC had been completely funded by the federal government as citizens qualified, TANF was funded by federal block grants given to the states in lump sums.

States were given great latitude in how the block grants would be used. There were no accountability measures to ensure that the states were actually helping poor families in difficult situations. All accountability measures attached to the block grants were designed to encourage states to cut the numbers of people receiving aid. In fact, states that disbursed funds to fewer families would be rewarded with a casework reduction credit. While the PRWORA’s stated aim was helping families transition to meaningful employment, the work participation rate (WPR) requirements have actually encouraged states to enroll fewer people into the program, because they can increase their WPR by simply shoving people off of the rolls.

The PRWORA set strict limits on how long an individual could receive benefits, capping it at five years over the course of a lifetime. The states were allowed to set the limit far lower, and many did so, some as low as three months.

TANF eligibility varies widely from one state to another, but in no state do the disbursements equal what had been given to families with AFDC.

Twenty years since the Clintons gutted the federal welfare system - World Socialist Web Site
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