Friday, August 10, 2012

Pleasant Surprises Are Always Welcome

It doesn't take much to cheer me up most of the time. As rotten as I felt yesterday after over-extending myself in the heat on Wednesday, I perked right up after reading this L.A. Times editorial. The editorial board got it right this time.

Its subject is the Romney campaign attack ad claiming that President Obama is gutting the 1996 Welfare Reform Act by erasing the return-to-work requirements. That law was mean-spirited and misguided, based as it was on a lot of myths about Welfare Cadillac Queens, but it passed (and was signed by an allegedly Democratic president). What this administration did, however, was simply listen to the complaints of states trying to comply with the law and finding some difficulty in doing so, and coming up with a way to remove some of the burdens on the states.

As much as lawmakers in Washington like federalism in concept, they have trouble accepting it in practice. In 2005, Congress eliminated some of the welfare law's flexibility and imposed new paperwork burdens, prompting several states to ask Washington for relief. Last month, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that it would use the authority granted by the law to let states experiment with new, potentially more effective ways to move parents from welfare to work. Most controversially, the department said states could apply for waivers to consider "work activities" and participation measurements other than the ones specified in the law. For example, the department said, a state might propose to allow longer vocational programs to be counted as work activities.

States get no more aid when their caseloads rise, so they have a strong incentive to move welfare recipients onto private payrolls. Nevertheless, critics of the administration cried foul over the administration's plan, and GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney produced ads accusing Obama of "taking the work out of welfare." On the contrary, the administration is trying to get the federal government off the backs of states eager to spend more of their (limited) welfare aid on programs that really do help put parents into jobs that can sustain their families. That task is hard enough, considering the cuts that California and other cash-strapped states have made to programs that help poor parents obtain child care and transportation. Yet when it comes to designing successful welfare programs, Romney and other administration critics seem to believe Congress knows best. That's principled federalism for you.
[Emphasis added]

I think the editorial is unnecessarily kind. This ad really doesn't have anything to do with federalism. What it has to do with is the ongoing war against the poor, particularly the poor of color. It was a "dog whistle" aimed to rouse the worst part of the Republican base. The important thing, however, is that the editorial board blew its own whistle on the distortion and lies.

And that was a pleasant surprise.

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