The Obama Administration has created a firestorm by claiming the authority to waive the work requirements of the popular 1996 welfare reform law. But the damage doesn’t stop there.
The same July 12 guidance from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) states that HHS will not approve policy initiatives that are “likely to reduce access to assistance.” Translation: Obama’s HHS will oppose any policy that actually reduces welfare caseloads and dependence.
What’s more, stung by criticism for gutting the successful core of welfare reform, HHS now claims that states receiving a waiver must “commit that their proposals will move at least 20 percent more people from welfare to work compared to the state’s prior performance.” On the surface, this sounds impressive, but a state can meet this goal merely by raising its monthly employment exits from, say, 5 percent to 6 percent of caseload. That kind of change will occur automatically as the economy improves, even without bureaucratic action.
The new HHS “standard” is merely a ploy that will allow HHS to exempt liberal states from the regular TANF participation rates without clearly stating what they are doing.
Given the normal turnover rate in welfare programs, the easiest way to increase the number of persons moving from “welfare to work” is to increase the number entering welfare in the first place. Liberals have traditionally used sham “exit” statistics to pretend to shrink welfare when in reality they were rapidly increasing it.
Bogus statistics were the norm during the period of rapid growth of the welfare state prior to the 1996 reform. Welfare reform curtailed the use of sham measures of success and established meaningful standards: participating in work activities meant actual work activities, not “bed rest,” “reading,” or doing one hour of job search per month. Reducing welfare dependence meant reducing caseloads. Now those standards are gone.
President Obama’s stated goal has been to “spread the wealth” by massively increasing the welfare state. Currently the federal government runs more than 80 means-tested welfare programs. These programs provide cash, food, housing, medical care, and social services to poor and low-income persons. Roughly a third of the population—100 million persons—receive benefits from one or more of these programs. (These figures do not include Social Security or Medicare.) Government spending on these programs in 2011 came to $927 billion.
Last month, among these programs, only three required work. Now the number is down to two as the Obama Administration has ended welfare reform as we know it.