Welfare Reform: Fixing the System Inside and Out
Jared Bernstein and Irwin Garfinkel
The market forces that create economic growth and a tide of winners also create recessions and the occasional losers who need assistance. But since the creation of the English poor laws in the fourteenth century, welfare programs have been controversial. While they reduce insecurity, they also cost taxpayers money and reduce reliance on work and the family as sources of economic support. This inherent tension has, at different points in U.S. history, fueled intense debates. Welfare policy inevitably forces a choice between our values of compassion and community on the one hand and self-reliance and self-interest on the other. As a result, the generosity of welfare programs fluctuates with the resolution of each round of reform.
Having made a campaign promise to "end welfare as we know it," welfare reform was high on the Clinton administration's policy agenda in the first term. The administration initially proposed a plan that would limit cash assistance for those able to work to two years and provide work relief after that. The plan that he ultimately signed into law, however, reflected a more punitive approach championed by congressional Republicans. Under the new plan, welfare provision is terminated after a five-year period, with no provision for those who are unable to find work. Furthermore, financing is shifted to a block grant approach, and states will be given leeway to implement shorter (but not longer) time limits.____________________