Yesterday the Senate beat back an amendment offered by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) to the tax extenders bill that would have continued for another six months a policy aimed at undoing welfare reform.
The policy was originally created as part of last year’s infamous Stimulus package in the form of the TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) Emergency Fund. It was supposed to be a “temporary” measure, however, the President in his 2011 budget and now Congress are actively looking for ways to extend it. This anti-reform fund pays states “bonus” money for increasing the size of their welfare caseloads without any incentives to place people into jobs and off of the dole. This fund, if continued, will undermine the great successes of the 1996 welfare reform.
The 1996 welfare reform law fundamentally changed how welfare worked. The old system known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) was an open-ended entitlement that reimbursed states on a per case basis. Welfare reform ended this practice and instead put in place a fixed block grant through which states received the same amount of funding year to year without regard to the actual size of their caseload. In addition, states were required to have at least 50 percent of their caseload engaged in some kind of work or work preparedness activity or else face a fiscal penalty.
Because of this reform, millions of families moved out of inter-generational poverty and into self-sufficiency and employment. Between 1996 and 2009 over 2.8 million families left the welfare rolls. In addition, the child poverty rate dropped and in particular the black child poverty rate hit historic lows. Employment for never-married mothers rose rapidly.
Unfortunately, since taking office, President Obama has sought to curb this success in the name of “stimulus.” His 2011 budget requests to continue this program for another year costing $2.5 billion. Fortunately, Senator Murray’s amendment that would have extended the program for another 6 months was defeated yesterday. But beware, there are sure to be more attempts in the near future to attach this measure to other legislative vehicles.