With the national debt quickly approaching $14 trillion, Washington needs to get serious about cutting spending. One option the next Congress should consider is to restore welfare reform, one of the most successful bipartisan initiatives of the 1990s.
The 1996 welfare reform law created incentives for states to help people get back on their feet and off of taxpayer assistance. However, the 2009 stimulus package created a new “emergency fund” under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program which actually incentivizes states to increase their welfare caseloads without requiring able-bodied individuals to work, get job training, or make other efforts to move off of taxpayer assistance. Specifically, a state must increase its welfare caseloads in order to receive any funding, and states receive an 80% match to cover all expenses associated with increasing their welfare caseloads. This costs taxpayers $2.5 billion each year.
Just a couple of points here.
First, thanks to the GOP’s obstruction, the TANF Emergency Fund expired on September 30, 2010, effectively putting the 240,000 people who found work through the program out of work. (This must be one of those “We had to destroy the village in order to save it,” moments — when conservatives have to kill jobs in order to create them.) It was funded at $5 billion over two years. Now it’s dead. The GOP killed it. There have been efforts to extend it, but at a maximum of 2.5 billion
Second, where does this business about not “requiring able-bodied individuals to work” come from? The Emergency fund has, in its brief existence, put people to work who want to work and would have been out of work otherwise. The money from the Emergency Fund was used by states to subsidize jobs programs that have successfully put “able bodied individuals to work” — including some 120,000 young people who would not have had summer jobs, and 130,000 parents who wouldn’t have had jobs to provide for their families.
- South Carolina is using the program to provide jobs to parents who would otherwise be receiving cash assistance through the state’s regular TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) program.
- Illinois has placed more than 20,000 individuals in jobs, far exceeding its original goal of 12,000 placements.
- Alabama is using the program to provide jobs to TANF recipients statewide, but has found it especially helpful in rural communities where very few job opportunities exist
- North Dakota is providing jobs for unemployed non-custodial parents who don’t have the financial resources to meet their child support
- A rural community in Tennessee created 400 new jobs and helped reduce the county’s unemployment rate from 27.3 to 18.6 percent over an eight-month period
There’s a whole lot more here, on how states used TANF to subsidize job programs and put people to work — people who would otherwise have just received cash assistance.
This, Republicans apparently believe, is a very bad thing. Maybe the GOP doesn’t think these are “real” jobs. Maybe, like the aforementioned serial killer, the GOP just thinks some jobs need to die, because some jobs shouldn’t exist in the first place. Likewise the people whose lives have gotten better because of those jobs.
The point is that the TANF Emergency Fund is an example of a safety net that works when the economy doesn’t — like unemployment benefits keeping millions out of poverty — by putting hundreds of thousands of people back to work, where they can learn use their skills instead of lose them, and perhaps learn new skills that may lead to better jobs and better lives. If you want to talk about incentives, these are people who would otherwise have been collecting TANF cash benefits that aren’t enough to meet basic needs.
Besides, if Republicans really want something to cut, there are far meatier parts of the budget just waiting for someone with a sharp knife.
One place Democrats could start fighting — if they can find the backbone — is to call out the new Republican Speaker Of The House John Boehner over his desire to trim the deficit with draconian cuts in the federal budget. The word he used was “discretionary” funding. The largest discretionary line in the budget is the Pentagon.
This is a major pissing contest just waiting for somebody to begin the challenge. And the perfect place to start is for somebody to piss on Boehner’s shoes
The Pentagon budget is the largest elephant in the room that no one except the antiwar left will talk about. There is no good reason for this, since the crisis represented by the bloated Pentagon budget goes far beyond the anti-war movement, reaching into the lives of all working Americans. Sure, it will mean a fight, but fighting is good at this juncture – much better than laying down.
No, it’s far far better for them to be unemployed and wait for the private sector to create jobs, when taxes and wages are finally low enough. The GOP has no immediate plans to create jobs to replace those they’re so eager to kill off. Their best idea is a old one one: cut taxes and hope for the best. We know what that got us last time: a decade of zero job growth.
That the 240,000 people who will be out of work again are unlikely to find work in the private sector hardly matters. When the people who had work through the TANF Emergency Fund are finally out of work, the GOP will probably deny them unemployment benefits too, just for kicks.
Until then, there’s still some fun to be had with the still-fresh corpse of the TANF Emergency Fund.