“What’s needed most right now is creating the conditions where assistance is no longer needed.”
“Let’s move beyond the old, narrow debate over how much money we’re spending [on anti-poverty programs] and let’s instead focus on results—whether we’re actually making improvements in people’s lives.”
Those quotes would certainly resonate with proponents of reform to America’s welfare system—a massive labyrinth of 70 different programs whose rolls of dependents have increased steadily throughout the past 50 years, even as they have failed to boost a small percentage of impoverished families to self-sufficiency.
The one exception to this trend was the successful reform incorporated in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program in 1996. Unlike the rest of the programs, TANF encouraged work and marriage and, as a result, put nearly 3 million families on a pathway to independence.
The quotes above would also be welcomed by grassroots leaders seeking a new paradigm for the remaining failed anti-poverty programs, which would involve personal responsibility, reciprocity, and an avenue to upward mobility following the model of the success accomplished through TANF.
Such reformers have been disappointed by recent policy changes under the Obama Administration that have even rolled back the TANF reform. The Obama policy changes have dictated that, once again, states should be rewarded for the size of their welfare rolls rather than their effectiveness in helping people rise from poverty.
But here’s the surprise: Those quotes are not the words of champions of welfare reform but are, in fact, comments made by President Obama during a recent U.N. forum discussing strategies for assistance to developing countries. If only the President would apply the sentiments he expresses on foreign aid to the poverty that exists in his own back yard!