Monday, August 07, 2006

Compassionate Conservatism: Welfare

Even though the 1996 Welfare Reform Act has been successful in moving the poor off of welfare rolls, the GOP controlled Congress has not been sufficiently impressed. As a result, they have gotten even more draconian with the rules. From the Washington Post:

A decade after the government set out to transform the nation's welfare system, the limits on college are part of a controversial second phase of welfare reform that is beginning to ripple across the country. The new rules, written by Congress and the Bush administration, require states to focus intensely on making more poor people work, while discouraging other activities that might help untangle their lives.

By Oct. 1, state and local welfare offices must figure out how to steer hundreds of thousands of low-income adults into jobs or longer work hours. They also must adjust to limits on the length of time people on welfare can devote to trying to shed drug addictions, recover from mental illnesses or get an education.

This second generation of change reverses a central idea behind the 1996 law that ended six decades of welfare as an unlimited federal entitlement to cash assistance. The law decentralized welfare, handing states a lump sum of money and the freedom to design their own programs of temporary help for poor families. Ten years later, the government is tightening the federal reins.

Many state officials and advocates are furious. "You had fixed block grants in exchange for state flexibility," said Elaine M. Ryan, deputy executive director of the American Public Human Services Association, which represents welfare directors around the country. "Now you have fixed block grants in exchange for federal micromanagement. . . . That was not the deal."

...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.
[Emphasis added]

What the jackanapes in Congress and the White House seem unable to understand is that moving people off the welfare rolls, but not out of poverty, is not what was intended in 1996. Many people on public assistance are there not out of laziness, but rather out of desparation. Many have medical conditions preventing immediate return to the work force. Many lack the education for anything but the most menial of minimum wage jobs and they have children to support. Denying states the flexibility to deal with these issues is to deny basic human needs and compassion to those who are most at risk.

The whole point of the 1996 change was to change the alleged subculture of eternal welfare entitlement. That was accomplished rather quickly. Now the act has been amended to punish those with the misfortune of being poor and uneducated, or poor and sick. Yet no draconian measures have been "buried in a sprawling bill meant mainly to cut federal spending" to cut welfare payments to the oil industry, or to agribusinesses.

Meanspirited and hypocritical: a good description of today's Republican Party.


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