| McManus -
Ethics & Religion
August 23, 2006
Advance for August 26, 2006
Impact of Welfare Reform after Ten Years
by Michael J, McManus
President Clinton pledged to "end welfare as we know it" when elected in 1992.
But he vetoed two Welfare Reform bills before signing one in August, 1996, just
before his re-election.
Arguably, no law has had such a positive national impact since passage of the
1965 Civil Rights Act. Between 1970 and 1996, federal aid to the poor tripled,
yet the percentage of black children in poverty remained stubbornly at the 40
percent level. Why?
Welfare was given with only two rules: a mother could not work and she could not
be married to an employed man. "It was an incentive system from hell," argued
Robert Rector of the Heritage Foundation, and the primary architect of Welfare
Reform, known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).
He says, "It created a sea change, by replacing one-way handouts with reciprocal
obligations. Handouts had bred a climate of dependence. In exchange for
benefits, government now requires constructive behavior to move out of poverty
by working." And rather than prolonged dependence, benefits were limited to a
total of five years.
Sen. Pat Moynihan called the law, "The most brutal act of social policy since
reconstruction." He predicted "Those involved will take this disgrace to their
Marion Wright Edelman, President of the Children's Defense Fund, called the law
"an outrage...that will hurt and impoverish millions of American children." Even
the sober, thoughtful Urban Institute predicted the law would push 2.6 million
people into poverty, including 1.1 million children.
Edelman's husband, Peter Edelman, resigned his position as Assistant Secretary
of the Department of Health and Human Services predicting a wide disaster:
"There will be more malnutrition and more crime, increased infant mortality,"
and would fail even in promoting work because "there simply are not enough jobs
What really happened?
Jason Turner, who ran New York City's program tells of a woman applying for TANF,
who heard the new rules, shook her head saying, "I might as well take a job."
The number of families on the dole dropped from 4.3 million to 1.89 million, a
56 percent plunge. However, no one, not even Robert Rector, predicted such a
Did that push millions into poverty? No. There are 1.6 million fewer children in
poverty, with the greatest decreases among black children, falling from 41.5
percent in 1995 to 32.9 percent in 2004. That is nationally unprecedented.
Further, dependence fell most sharply among young never-married mothers with low
levels of education and young children.
"This is dramatic confirmation that welfare reform affected the whole welfare
caseload, not merely the most employable mothers," Rector testified recently.
Some critics noted that the poverty rate has risen in recent years, which is
true. But it fell from 23 percent of the nation below the poverty line in 1996
to 16 percent in 2000, and did move slightly back up to 18 percent in 2004.
One weakness of the original law was that each state could define what it meant
by work. Some called bed rest, or attending smoking cessation classes or
motivational reading as work. This year, the Administration did persuade
Congress to make sure that work is what most Americans believe it is, and
required that at least half of the caseload be working. Critics said this was
setting the "bar too high." But since 2002, Georgia has gone from 8 percent
participating in work to 67 percent.
States largely ignored provisions of the original law to take steps to "prevent
and reduce the incidence of out-of-wedlock births," and "encourage the formation
and maintenance of two parent families." So the new law specifically set aside
$100 million a year that must be spent to strengthen marriage, the first
dedicated funding stream to help create healthy marriages.
This year Ohio did set aside one percent of its $1.2 billion TANF budget to
strengthen marriage and families, $12 million. This week marriage activists in
other states began to mobilize to pressure their states to adopt a similar ONE
PERCENT SOLUTION modeled on Ohio.
Present divorce law makes divorce too easy to get. If one person alleges the
marriage is "irreconcilable," the other spouse can make no defense to stop the
divorce. Most divorces are filed by women because they know they can usually
get child custody.
The solution? "Whoever is the creator of the divorce does not get the child,"
argued Eloise Anderson, who ran welfare in Wisconsin and California, at a
Heritage Foundation meeting. At least joint custody should replace sole custody,
as I argued last week, to give kids better access to fathers, greater financial
support, and less likelihood their parents will divorce.
30+ Years / 1700+ Columns
2017: Column 1860: Cohabitation: A Growing Problem - Part I
Texting While Driving - A Killer
Why Have "Religious Nones" Tripled?
Norma McCorvey Roe of Roe v. Wade
The Worst Valentine: Cohabitation
Pornography: A Public Health Hazard
Christianity Gives Women Equal Opportunity
Sextortion Kills Teens
Assisted Suicide Is Growing
same sex marriage,
abortion and infanticide,