Recent Changes to Welfare When President Bill Clinton reluctantly signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, he had an idea of what the critical responses would be. The hope was to induce a program that would bring significant benefits to the needy and hungery people of our country. However, the response and criticisms are equivalent to what our president expected, very negative. Mary Jo Bane believes the new welfare law poses serious dangers to poor children and families. As assistant secretary for children and families in the Department of Health and Human services, she supported the administration’s efforts to refocus the welfare system on work and to increase state flexibility through the waiver process. But in the course of reviewing state welfare reform proposals, she became concerned that politics and financial pressures were pushing states into a “race to the bottom”(Bane).
As long as the old law was in place the federal government could insist on guaranteed assistance and protections for recipients. Her fears about what would happen to poor children when states were no longer required to provide the modest assurances and protections we insisted on in waiver demonstrations led her to resign after President Clinton signed the welfare bill (Bane). The reform takes away national level responsibilities and puts the money and responsibility into the individual states. A good amount of flexibility is provided, which may or may not result in a positive manner. For instance, they money could be used on the work reform and job preparation, while others could find loopholes in the laws, and while their purposes may not be malicious, the money would not truly be carrying out the role intended. “No longer will cash assistance to dependent children be guaranteed by the federal government. Instead it will be provided, or not, by states using block grants.” (Bane) This is the basic premise of the new bill.
Specifically, there are nine titles addressing separate issues involved. The bulk of the 54 billion dollar savings appears in Numbers XV and XIII. They offer the most serious impact, according to Mrs. Smith and they were also considered the most flawed by President Clinton. Title IV bans most legal immigrants from receiving most federal benefits. Title XIII cuts food stamp benefits across the board and restricts food stamp benefits to unemployed adults without disabilities or dependents to 3 months out of 36 (Bane).
Most of the 54 billion in savings come from these two titles alone. Mary Jo feels the greatest weakness of the reform is the lack of response to the children, who are in turn, not supported anymore after the parent has failed to win a job and has used up their five year limit on assistance. What would happen to them we ask? There is no data to tell us. Another reporter is more concerned with the unrealistic ideals of the job program. Although in some states it has in fact benefited them, it could ultimately spell disaster.
The preparation program has little to no focus on post secondary education, which is really what leads into most of the worthwhile jobs (The Issues, Welfare Reform p.2-3). Without even a high school diploma, the majority of the jobs taken are merely in the fast food industry, making 5-6 dollars an hour with no benefits (Heaven knows what would happen if there was an accident.) These type jobs also inculde a highly unpredictable work schedule. The individual would never have a reliable income. Even more distressing is that in the estimated required wage for a single mother to earn in order to feed, house, and transport is around 8-9 dollars an hour, a considerable amount less than the average. Another problem with the work-based part of the program, is that there may be no jobs left over to be acquired.
There are certainly not enough well-paying programs to go around. It is quite possible that without the creation and implementation of a public-sector employment agency, there may never be enough jobs. Can we deny people assistance because there are simply no jobs leftover? (The Issues, Welfare Reform p. 5) Another agrues that it is not truly welfare refrom. It does not promote work effectively, and it will hurt millions of poor children when it fully implemented. He is also deeply concerned with the fact that it bars hundreds of thousands of legal immigrants — including many who have worked in the United States for decades and paid a considerable amount in Social Security and income taxes — from receiving disability and old-age assistance and food stamps, and reduces food-stamp assistance for millions of children in working families.
If the said parent fails to find a job or exceed their five year total, what would happen to the children? The answer, disturbingly, is nothing. During a floor debate, Senator Edward Kennedy described this as “legislative child abuse”. (Edelman) While the authors are agreed that this is ,overall, a bad idea, they also each can’t help but praise a few pieces of the legislation, such as the child care and self-improvement initiative. They express how the program set forth in a well intended manner, in the hopes of correcting one of our nations greatest problems, can turn into many new problems. The hardest part lies in the fact that there is no universal answer to an issue as large, widespread, and diverse as the welfare program. We have learned that there is much work to be done and many changes to be made before we will ever have a “win-win” situation.