President Obama’s budget outlines a plan to pay states to grow their welfare roles and eliminate efforts to fight family breakdown in low-income communities. Despite the fact that low work hours and fatherlessness are two of the greatest contributors to poverty in the United States, the newly released budget provides incentives for states to increase the size of their caseloads and also wipes out funding for healthy marriage programs that aim to decrease the number of children growing up in single-parent homes.
Prior to 1996, the federal government increased a state’s welfare money as that state increased its caseload. Not surprisingly, this provided little motivation to help welfare recipients move into the workforce. The 1996 welfare reforms 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. Once again, states are being paid to increase their caseload (80 cents on the dollar for every new case they receive beyond their numbers for 2007 or 2008).
Now President Obama is proposing $2.5 billion more to 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 includes a $2 billion nest egg for tough economic times such as this. (And lest it be forgotten, the government already increased welfare spending for FY 2010 by $174.6 billion.) Moreover, the new funding would not even be dispensed to states based on their unemployment rates but merely doled out based on the size of their caseload.
Unfortunately, Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA) has jumped on the bandwagon, proposing an even greater expansion to the welfare system. His legislation would allow states to collect as much federal money as needed to support their growing caseload (provided that the state does not receive more than 50 percent of its annual TANF dollars). The cost of this would dwarf the President’s $2.5 billion request. Both Obama and McDermott are sending a clear message to states: increase your welfare rolls and you will be rewarded handsomely by the federal taxpayer.
Not only does the President plan to expand welfare, but he has also eliminated a program that aims to reduce the prevalence of single motherhood, one of the greatest contributors to poverty in the United States. The Healthy Marriage grant program provides help to those from low-income communities to 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, focused very little on fatherhood, marriage, or families.
The 1996 welfare reform 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 off the dole and up to independence.