Yes: Welfare no longer is an entitlement, and work is on the horizon for many recipients.
With considerable prodding from the Republican Congress, President Clinton announced at the end of July that he finally would fulfill a 1992 campaign promise: "to end welfare as we know it." Shortly after the president declared that he would sign the historic welfare-reform legislation that emerged from a House-Senate conference committee, both chambers passed the measure--328-101 in the House, where half of the Democratic caucus supported it; and 78-21 in the Senate, with 25 of 46 Democrats in support, including 86 percent of those seeking reelection this year.
Not only does this bipartisan achievement represent a political victory for the Democratic president and the Republican Congress, it will offer a better life for the millions of welfare recipients whose long-term dependency upon the federal government has denied them the opportunity to support themselves and their families in the most opportunity-laden society civilization has ever created (See Insight, Aug. 26, 1996).
In another historic achievement, the legislation accomplishes the first-ever repeal of a major federal entitlement. It eliminates the federal cash-welfare program Aid to Families With Dependent Children, or AFDC, and replaces it with lump-sum, block-grant payments to the states, where work-related antipoverty programs will be established with far less federal micromanagement. Poverty-reducing experiments will proliferate at the state level, including the comprehensive Wisconsin welfare-reform program for which Gov. Tommy Thompson had been beseeching the Clinton administration for a federal "waiver."
The work component of this reform legislation is strict. Within two years of receiving benefits, for example, the head of every welfare family must begin working--with the exception that states could exempt the parent of a child under I year old. States would be authorized to require adults to perform community service after two months of receiving welfare. The bill will achieve savings in the fraud-ridden food-stamp program, too; able-bodied, childless adults who are not working may receive them for only three months in any three-year period. (If their need for food stamps results from being laid off, they can qualify for another three months.)
By 1997 states will be required to have 25 percent of their welfare recipients working. By 2002, the requirement increases to 50 percent. The legislation requires single parents to work 20 hours per week in 1996 and 30 hours by 2000. The work requirement for two-parent welfare families would be 35 hours per week. States that fail to meet these standards would be penalized by having their block grants reduced by 5 percent the first year. The penalty would increase by 2 percent for each subsequent year a state fails to comply.
These work provisions hardly are onerous. Indeed, nearly 60 percent of mothers in two-parent families with children I year old or younger were in the labor force in 1994--double the rate that prevailed 20 years earlier. And more than three out of four two-parent-family mothers with children age 6 to 13 were in the labor force in 1994. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate for single mothers is more than four times as high as the rate for married mothers. With the percentage of women in the labor force having increased from about one-third in 1960 to nearly two-thirds today--reflecting one of the most profound social transformations of the postwar period--is it any wonder why the taxpaying public has demanded a strong work component in any welfare-reform proposal?
Nor should the work requirement be seen as punitive. Wisconsin Works, or W-2, as Thompson likes to call his state-initiated welfare proposal, is precisely the sort of reform man that the average voter easily can understand. Just how "revolutionary" the Wisconsin plan is can be gleaned from Thompson's description of it. …