Sure enough–as welfare reform nears its 10th anniversary on Aug. 22, the complaints are pouring from the mainstream media about how cruel it is to limit welfare benefits and force welfare moms to find paying work. (See my Aug. 3 post on the success story that welfare reform has actually been–and that’s not me talking, but economist Robert Samuelson).
Now here’s the latest: a gusher from today’s Washington Post on the likely dire consequences of Congress’s efforts in 2005, supplemented by new regulations from the Department of Health and Human Services, designed to close some loopholes in welfare reform: such as state programs that pay welfare mothers to go to college. Now for me, as a taxpayer obliged to subsidize ivied halls for welfare moms, shutting those programs down sounds like a good idea. Why should college students (and their parents) who work their way through college and burden themselves with loans have to pay as well for the college classes of people who are distinctly not working their way through college?
Of course, the Washington Post doesn’t ask this question. Instead reporter Amy Goldstein writes:
Having grown up on welfare, Rochelle Riordan had vowed never to ask for a government handout. That was before her hard-drinking husband kicked her and their young daughter out of their house near Lewiston, Maine, leaving her with a $300 bank account, a bad job market and a 15-year-old car held together in spots with duct tape.
Maine’s welfare agency, she heard, was offering help for poor parents to go to college full time. With the state paying for day care and $513 a month in living expenses, Riordan, 37, has been on the dean’s list every semester at the University of Southern Maine, expecting to graduate and start a social work career next spring.
Well, that’s nice–congratulations, Rochelle. But what about the hundreds of thousands of working-class kids, many of them offspring of immigrant parents at the very bottom of the economic ladder, who are also making straight A’s–without the benefit of free day care and free living expenses–not to mention the free tuition and a variety of other welfare freebies, from subsidized housing to Medicaid to food stamps that Goldstein doesn’t even mention?
The loophole-tightening came as members of Congress discovered that despite the tight work requirements built into the 1996 welfare reform law, only about one-third of adult welfare clients were actually working, and many of those only 20 hours a week and less. The rest were going to school, signing up for endless hours of “job training” for jobs they never actually managed to look for, and other activities of dubious merit. Goldstein writes:
Last December, buried in a sprawling bill meant mainly to cut federal spending, Republicans finally got the welfare changes they wanted. They compel states to find jobs for fully half their adult clients, and they increase the required work hours from 20 hours per week to 30. Then, in late June, the Department of Health and Human Services issued strict new rules defining what counts as work — and who must be counted.
Wade F. Horn, HHS’s assistant secretary for children and families, said the closer federal regulation is necessary because states have been lax. ‘Some defined as work bed rest, going to a smoking-cessation program, getting a massage, doing an errand with a friend,’ Horn said….
The new rules say states may count toward their work-participation rates no more than six weeks per year that a client spends looking for a job, or receiving help such as drug or mental health treatment. And when reporting who is working, states must take into account extra people, including grandparents who are not on welfare but are raising children who get benefits.
Naturally, the welfare lobby–that is, state welfare officials whose agency budgets thrive on large rolls and fat wads of federal funds–are complaining bitterly:
‘We expected the [rules] to be bad,’ said Robin Arnold-Williams, secretary of the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services. ‘They are worse than that.’ In that state, one-fourth of the 25,000 adults on welfare are not working while they try to conquer barriers such as addictions or too little education — a policy in direct conflict with the new rules.
Well, yes. Isn’t six weeks plenty to dry out from alcohol or drugs? When I last looked, AA meetings and similar support groups were designed to fit into lunch hours and after-work free time. Most working adults with substance problems can’t afford to take more than a few weeks off to get themselves into shape.
That’s Washington state. Here’s Washington, D.C.’s excuse:
In the District, about 2,200 more people will need to go to work, said Kate Jesberg, head of the D.C. Department of Human Resources. Most, she said, will need more than the six weeks allotted to find a job, in no small part because two-thirds of the city’s adults on welfare read at the fifth-grade level or less.
I guess the idea in the District is that welfare recipients should be allotted three years to find a job so that they can be reading at the eighth-grade level. How about seven years so that they can read at the 12th-grade level? Or eleven years so they can read like college grads? Hasn?t anyone in Washington, D.C., ever heard of manual labor? Gardeners, maintenance staffers, house-cleaners, and food-processing workers are among the many jobs in the Washington area currently filled by immigrants who can?t read in English at any grade level.
Expect much, much more of this from the mainstream press as Aug. 22 draws nearer.