The Rise and Fall of Welfare Reform

The Clinton administration’s most notable achievement was welfare reform. Well, Clinton vetoed it twice before he finally signed it into law, but once everyone recognized that welfare reform was a resounding success he embraced it enthusiastically. Welfare reform succeeded in drastically reducing the welfare rolls, thereby cutting back on the culture of dependency. But Barack Obama loves dependency, so on July 12 he gutted welfare reform by eliminating work requirements from federal regulations. You can read about it here:

Unfortunately, not everyone was enthusiastic about welfare reform. For instance, a man named Barack Obama took to the floor of the Illinois state senate to announce his opposition. A devoted believer in old-school, big-government liberalism, Mr. Obama had no interest in embracing the welfare reform package that linked welfare to work. Now as president, with an economy struggling, an election looming, and a dispirited liberal base in need of encouragement, he has decided to turn back the clock.

On July 12, the Department of Health and Human Services issued an extraordinary memorandum announcing that welfare reform’s firm and previously unquestioned work requirements were in fact merely optional and subject to the whim of the President and his Administration. Subsequent protestation that they will use their newly claimed discretion wisely is entirely beside the point. After fifteen years of successful reform built on the premise that work requirements are inviolable, President Obama apparently believes he can approve whatever “definitions of work activities” and “calculation of participation rates” he wants. And the memorandum makes clear that he hopes states will consider approaches that remove work participation rate requirements all together.

This policy change undermines the very premise of welfare reform.

Aren’t work requirements written into the statute? I thought they were. It is not clear how Obama can simply negate legislation that has been the law of the land since the mid-1990s. Senate nominee Ted Cruz commented on Obama’s action:

In my view, there are three critical failings behind President Obama’s new policy on welfare. Number one, it’s fiscally irresponsible. At a time when our nation has sixteen trillion dollars in national debt, the idea that this president would eliminate one of the key requirements that reduced the welfare caseload and reduced federal government spending makes no sense. Number two, it is yet another action of executive arrogance by this president. President Obama, if he disagreed with requiring welfare recipients to work or to seek work, he could have gone to Congress. He could have proposed new legislation. He could have tried to make the case to the American people. But he did not do that. He didn’t try to make the argument to anybody that work requirements were unnecessary or were counterproductive in welfare. Instead, he simply decreed it by executive order. This has been a pattern of this administration where they believe their own ideology trumps the views of the American people. And the third critical failing of this new policy is that it hurts the recipients of welfare. The most compelling reason behind the bipartisan welfare reform that we saw is that helping those receiving government assistance to get jobs, to stand on their own feet fundamentally transforms their lives. We are not doing anybody a favor by giving them welfare in perpetuity and making them dependent on government.

But making people dependent on government is what the Obama administration is all about. The Romney campaign produced this excellent ad, and is devoting this week largely to talking about the welfare reform issue: