On Tuesday, Governor Rick Snyder (R) signed legislation to place a four-year time limit on cash assistance benefits for welfare recipients.
In 2006, Michigan passed similar legislation under then-Governor Jennifer Granholm (D). But, according to Jack McHugh of Michigan’s Mackinac Center, that particular legislation included so many loopholes that it rendered the time limits practically meaningless. The legislation signed this week attempts strengthen the time limits and thus promote personal responsibility.
Snyder noted that “we are returning cash assistance to its original intent as a transitional program to help families while they work toward self-sufficiency.”
Similarly, Maura Corrigan, Michigan’s Health and Human Services director, stated:
We cannot afford to provide lifetime cash assistance to recipients who are able to work. Enforcing lifetime limits for cash assistance ensures that available funds are targeted toward those recipients who need a helping hand while they find employment.
In 1996, the federal government took similar steps to reform welfare by creating the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program in place of Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). Whereas the average stay on AFDC was 13 years, TANF inserted a five-year time limit for able-bodied recipients and also required that individuals work or look for work.
As a result of the reforms, millions of families left welfare for jobs. Furthermore, the poverty rate among African-American children dropped to an all-time low.
Unfortunately, some of TANF’s success has been eroded. Over the years, Senate Democrats have blocked reauthorization of the reform law, and states have used loopholes to evade work provisions. Beyond this, TANF is only one part of a behemoth federal welfare system that is now composed of over 70 different programs. Today, total welfare spending edges near $1 trillion annually, a 13-fold increase since the War on Poverty began in the 1960s.
By implementing stricter time limits, Michigan is taking a step forward to ensure that assistance remains a temporary help to families in need rather than a tool for creating dependence.
The federal government should take similar action to ensure that federal welfare programs encourage personal responsibility by promoting work. Furthermore, the government should get welfare spending under control rather than calling for ever-increasing funds. Finally, federal, state, and local governments should promote strong marriage—the greatest prevention to poverty—by eliminating marriage penalties present in many welfare programs and encouraging marriage among low-income communities.
A prosperous nation consists of citizens who are self-reliant. Any program that aims to assist should therefore promote personal responsibility.