Micky Kaus over at Slate.com has a scary post up about the provisions in the stimulus bill that essentially undo most of the welfare reform of the '90s.
The key provisions in the porkulus -- er, stimulus -- bill concern the caseload reduction mandated by PRWORA (the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, a.k.a. welfare reform). Under PRWORA, states had to make sure that 50% of the people on welfare were engaged in a "work activity" -- BUT they could count folks who got off welfare towards that 50% in the form of a "caseload reduction credit". Because welfare rolls collapsed in the late '90s and (contrary to the doomsayers who were convinced that the caseloads would swell once a recession hit) the the aughts ('00s), states basically didn't have to engage people in work activity because the caseload reduction credit allowed them to fulfill their work requirement mandates without doing anything. So far so good: people are getting off welfare, and states don't have to do anything more about it.
Now, however, the Democrats want to encourage states to put people back on welfare, essentially undoing welfare reform -- one of Bill Clinton's only good domestic accomplishments as president. They're too smart to do it out in the open, however. They know that Americans were incensed at allowing able-bodied people to not work when they otherwise could or should (which is one reason why welfare disappeared as a culture wars topic 2 seconds after PRWORA was implemented). So they've decided to make this change -- along with a host of others -- through a massive "stimulus" bill, where they know people won't pay attention.
What they're doing is basically allowing states to apply their caseload reduction numbers from 2007 and 2008 to their caseloads in 2009 and beyond, regardless of whether their caseloads decline. This would be like the IRS allowing someone to us his income as a college student working a minimum wage job part-time as the basis for his tax returns after he's graduated college and found a job paying $60,000 a year. (Just assume he was an engineering student; they can find jobs that pay like that out of school.) It's encouraging the states to cheat and expand their welfare rolls.
That's bad. That's very bad. It goes against American culture and American character. Work, in America, is what we do. In this, America is unlike Europe where there's a cultural understanding that it's okay to live off the state. That's not the case in America. Liberals, who largely want America to become like Europe, are obviously not pleased with this aspect of America's character. For about 30 years, they had their wish. (Yes, old AFDC-style welfare was started in the '30s, but it didn't become a blight on American culture until the mid-'60s. The Supreme Court ruled that welfare was property under the Due Process clause, which led people to come up with the idea of people having rights to welfare. At that point, the dam burst open and the welfare rolls swelled full of people with no intention or motivation to ever leave welfare.) This led to massive generational poverty (something Liberals ironically blame on Conservative racism, much like the English blaming the Spanish for killing Jews when it was really the English Inquisition that did that), huge spikes in urban crime, and accelerated white flight.
In 1996, the federal government finally decided to heed the wishes of Americans and radically overhauled welfare, replacing AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children, an open-ended program of unlimited aid) with TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families, a time-limited program with limited funding). It was no coincidence that 1998 was the first major election in 30 years where welfare wasn't an issue just about anywhere in the country. Welfare rolls had dropped dramatically (partially in response to the economy, partially out of fear of the law, and partially in response to the law passing), and most of the folks on welfare could only be on for 5 years or so. The program was in line with American culture -- which doesn't despise giving aid to the truly needy, but which does despise giving aid to people who don't really need it.
Naturally, Liberals hated it. They've railed against it for over 10 years -- despite the fact that it's demonstrably improved the economic lot of most folks on welfare, and given those who merely broke even with it their dignity back. Now they see their chance to undo it and bring the system back into line with their own un-American vision for American culture, and they've wasted no time doing it in just about the most illegitimate fashion imaginable.
As an aside, let me say how much it angered me when President Obama in his news conference this week irately contradicted people who said that the stimulus bill is laden with pet projects by claiming over and over again that there were no earmarks in the bill. His statement was literally true, but he was still lying. Saying that there are no earmarks is not the same as saying that there are no pet projects. An earmark is a specific request by a lawmaker to include a pet project in a bill; the request is then voted on by the rest of the lawmakers present. If the same pet project is included in the original language of the bill, however, it isn't an earmark; it's still a piece of pork, though. To say otherwise is to lie.
It reminds me of the way the Justice Department under Bush was instructed to reply to people whose phones were tapped when they asked their phone company if their phones were tapped. The phone company would inform the Justice Department of the question, the Justice Department would take the tap off the phone, and then the phone company would tell their customers "No, your phone isn't being tapped." After the person hung up, the feds would put the tap back on the phone. The phone company was being literally truthful: the phones weren't being tapped at the moment when they said so. They were still lying, though.
Just like Obama. He and the Democrats lied about the pork-laden nature of this stimulus bill, and are doing their best to keep people in the dark about the massive changes their making -- to the health care system, to immigration enforcement, to the welfare system, etc. -- through it.
Update: Kaus goes into a little more detail about what this change to welfare would mean politically and socially.
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