Welfare Reform: States Race to the Bottom
Vol. 18, No. 1, 1996 pp. 1-2
With the election season looming, and both Clinton and the Congress positioning on the welfare reform debate, agreement on a welfare reform package is now considered unlikely this year. But the real action is already taking place in the states.
President Clinton vetoed the exceptionally callous welfare reform legislation supplied by Congress in January. But unless the election reverses the heartless mood in Washington, control over programs like Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) will be handed over to the states through block grants. This fundamental shift in government policy will be devastating for the more than thirteen million Americans who receive aid, 8.8 million of whom are children.
Absent federal action, states are already racing each other to pass regressive measures–restricting benefits and limiting eligibility. Although in many cases the state reforms are less restrictive than the vetoed federal bill, more than forty states have instituted time limits, work requirements, and family caps. Waivers, now in place in more than thirty-five state, allow states to avoid compliance with existing federal regulations.
In some instances, states have sought waivers to implement favorable changes, lifting thresholds on the value of a car of home owned by the applicant, for example. Child care assistance for working parents, a necessity to bridge the transition from welfare to work, has been included in state legislation. But , when available, child care is routinely underfunded, covering far fewer families than need aid. An effective program will
cost more, not less, as noted in the Texas article below.
Federal block grants, with drastic funding cuts, will open the way to undermine monthly benefit levels, already at rock bottom. State governors are supporting the move to block grants, agreeing to roughly 25 percent reductions in welfare spending in exchange for greater control over shrinking resources. While military budgets are largely untouched, at more than 54 percent of budget outlays, the welfare reform proposals, which are liable to be resurrected in some form, these opinion pieces were distributed under the umbrella of the American Forum, a national clearinghouse for editorial opinion, organized in twelve Southern states, which provides views of state experts on major public issues. Copyrighted by the respective state forums, they are edited slightly to be as up to date as possible, and reprinted there with permission.