THE first state in a new wave of welfare-system reforms has
cleared regulatory hurdles in record speed as the Bush
administration approved innovations in Wisconsin.
The changes in Wisconsin are intended to make it easier to move
off welfare and into work by allowing recipients to keep more of
their wages while still getting state aid. The reforms also remove
benefits to recipients for having additional children while on
This move, and other plans in states from New Jersey to
California, is in response to a growing consensus that welfare
systems are not working.
Both Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, are
increasingly in accord that many state welfare systems contain
perverse incentives that discourage moving into the work force and
President Bush strongly encouraged states to embark on such
reforms in his State of the Union speech in January, saying that
"welfare was never meant to be a lifestyle."
On Friday, Wisconsin was granted the federal waiver it needed to
change its system in less than a month, drawing heavy praise from
More than philosophy is behind these moves, however. Most states
revamping their welfare systems are under severe pressure to cut
their budgets. Most of Gov. Pete Wilson's proposals in California,
for example, reduce benefit levels.
The Wisconsin changes will raise the amount of wages that
welfare recipients can keep from $30 and one-sixth of earnings to
$200 and one-half of earnings. The purpose is to make it more
economically attractive and practical to take a job.
An irony is that it took an innovative Republican governor,
Tommy Thompson, to raise these work-incentive levels. They were cut
down nationally under the Reagan administration.
Unless states invest in job training and creating some workfare
jobs, notes Prof. Sheldon Danziger of the University of Michigan,
these incentives can only get people to search for jobs. They
cannot make them employable.
"It can be a move in the right direction," he says. But he notes
that, nationally, states are leaving some of their federal matching
funds for job training untapped.
States have only committed enough money for training and
education to cover about one in nine welfare families, according to
the Center for Law and Social Policy.
Wisconsin is also attempting to remove any incentive in the
system for bearing additional children while on welfare. …