Welfare Rule Changes Hurt States, the Poor

Article excerpt

President Bush recently signed a bill making it harder for states and participants in welfare-to-work programs to get the help they need.

The bill reauthorized the 1996 welfare reform, which Congress and the Clinton administration designed to push recipients off welfare rolls and onto employment rolls. After 2002, states were required to have at least half of the recipients working or else face a cut in funding.

But in his announcement on June 28, Health and Human Services Secretary Mike Leavitt issued stricter work guidelines. States were previously allowed to use their 1995 welfare population as a target for the percentage who were enrolled in work programs. The new regulations require states to start counting from their welfare populations as of 2005, thus putting greater pressure on states to find work for welfare recipients who remain on the rolls.

The net effect of these stricter rules will be to push more families off welfare.

Since the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program started in 1996, the welfare population has dropped from 4 million to 1.9 million. Nearly all recipients who are capable of work have already been removed from the welfare rolls. Wisconsin, a pioneer in welfare-to-work programs, reduced its caseload by 80 percent.

State welfare administrators agree that most employable recipients have already left the welfare program. Those who are left are the poorest of the poor who have physical or emotional disabilities or substance abuse problems. They are unlikely to obtain steady employment. As a result, funding will be cut.

The fundamental question, however, is whether former welfare recipients are actually faring any better than they were 10 years ago.

Although poverty rates fell during the economic boom of the 1990s, they have risen steadily again since 2000. Single-parent families headed by women are the hardest hit. They are two-and-a- half times more likely to be poor than two-parent families with children.

Despite the assertion by Wade F. Horn, the Health and Human Services assistant secretary for children and families, that "the only way to escape poverty is through work," this is not the reality for most low-wage workers. …