Welfare Reform

  • 20 years since welfare’s overhaul, results are mixed, By Pam Fessler, August 22, 2016, National Public Radio: “Twenty years ago, welfare as Americans knew it ended. President Bill Clinton signed a welfare overhaul bill that limited benefits and encouraged poor people to find jobs.  ‘We’re going to make it all new again, and see if we can’t create a system of incentives which reinforce work and family and independence,’ Clinton said at a White House bill signing ceremony.  The goals were admirable: help poor families get into the workforce so they’d no longer need government aid. They’d get job training and support, such as help with child care.  But the results have been mixed…”
  • How welfare reform changed American poverty, in 9 charts, By Max Ehrenfreund, August 22, 2016, Washington Post: “Twenty years ago, President Clinton kept a promise. ‘I have a plan to end welfare as we know it,’ he said in a television spot during his campaign for office. He did, on Aug. 22, 1996.  The law that the president signed that day, together with other policies enacted by Congress and the states, profoundly changed the lives of poor Americans. It was intensely controversial at the time — a controversy that is heating up again today. New data on the hardships of poverty in the aftermath of the recent recession have exposed what critics say are shortcomings of welfare reform…”

State Restrictions on Public Assistance for Drug Felons

More states lift welfare restrictions for drug felons, By Teresa Wiltz, August 9, 2016, Stateline: “Twenty years after a federal law blocked people with felony drug convictions from receiving welfare or food stamps, more states are loosening those restrictions — or waiving them entirely.  In April, Gov. Nathan Deal, a Republican, signed a criminal justice reform bill that lifted the ban on food stamps for drug felons in Georgia. Alaska followed suit in July, although applicants must prove they are complying with parole and are in treatment for substance abuse. And in Delaware, a bill to lift cash assistance restrictions for drug felons passed out of committee in June. The legislative session ended before the bill could be put to a vote…”

TANF programs – Missouri, California

  • Tougher rules shrink Missouri welfare rolls, advocates for the poor say, By Kurt Erickson, June 17, 2016, St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “New figures show the number of poor people receiving temporary cash benefits in Missouri has plummeted in the past five years.  And, the number is expected to nosedive further in the coming months under a proposed new law that calls for the state to scrub the welfare rolls to eliminate people who aren’t eligible for the aid…”
  • California’s new budget repeals welfare rule denying extra aid for newborns, By Jessica Calefati, June 16, 2016, San Jose Mercury News: “Capping a month of remarkably productive talks between Gov. Jerry Brown and Democratic leaders, lawmakers on Wednesday adopted a new state budget that repeals a harsh welfare rule advocates for needy families had fought against for years.  Assembly members barely debated the $122.5 billion general fund budget, passing it 52-27. The Senate approved the spending plan 27-11 over the objections of most Republicans, who argued that the Legislature was a bit too generous this year and should have saved more of the tax revenue it collected…”

State Safety Nets – Oregon

Welfare Utopia, By Alana Semuels, May 31, 2016, The Atlantic: “In much of the country, poor people are finding that there are fewer and fewer government benefits available to help them stay afloat. But here in this progressive corner of the Northwest, the poor can access an extensive system of state-sponsored supports and services.  In Oregon, a higher share of poor families is on welfare (now called TANF, or Temporary Aid to Needy Families) than in most states. The state has some of the highest food-stamp uptake in the country. It subsidizes childcare for working parents, asking the poorest of them to contribute as little as $27 a month. It helps people get off of welfare by linking them to employment and paying their wages for up to six months, and then allows them to continue to receive food stamps as they transition to higher wages. Families can be on welfare for up to 60 months, as opposed to 24 months in many other states, and once the parents are cut off due to time limits, their children can still continue to receive aid…”

Welfare Reform – Kansas

  • New Kansas law revives debate over welfare restrictions, By Megan Hart, May 17, 2016, Salina Post: “The legislative battle may be over, but the war of words continues about a bill that imposes new restrictions on Kansas welfare recipients. Gov. Sam Brownback signed Senate Bill 402 on Monday at the Statehouse flanked by legislative supporters of the measure. The new law lowers the lifetime limit for those receiving cash assistance under the Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF) program from three years to two years, with the possibility of a one-year hardship extension. It also tightens work requirements and penalties for not cooperating with fraud investigations…”
  • Gov. Brownback signs new limits on welfare, Associated Press, May 17, 2016, Kansas City Star: “Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback touted the welfare limits he signed into law Monday as a way to free recipients from the grip of poverty, but critics argued some families could be left without a safety net during financial difficulties. The changes in public assistance eligibility are a continuation of the 2015 HOPE Act, a law designed to move families off of welfare and into the workforce. The new law will reduce the lifetime limit on cash assistance from 36 to 24 months, although the state can grant an extension of up to 12 months…”

Welfare Reform – Kansas

Kansas lawmakers approve ‘step therapy’ and welfare reform bill, By Melissa Hellmann (AP), May 2, 2016, Topeka Capital-Journal: “Kansas legislators approved a health and public welfare bill Monday that would reduce prescription drug costs within the state’s Medicaid program and make changes to eligibility for public assistance.  Senators voted 27-13 in favor of the measure early Monday after the House approved it in a 79-43 vote. The measure will now go to Gov. Sam Brownback, who has touted welfare reform in the past…”

Welfare Reform

20 years later, welfare overhaul resonates for families and candidates, By Clyde Haberman, May 1, 2016, New York Times: “In a sense, this is a ‘Back to the Future’ presidential campaign, with candidates revisiting a specific time in the past to explain — and often lament — where the country is today. That period is often the 1990s, during Bill Clinton’s White House watch. It was when stricter anti-crime measures and looser financial regulations came into being, policies now attacked almost daily by contenders offering voters their visions and revisions.  One ‘Back to the Future’ issue from the ’90s has received relatively scant attention, but the next president may have a hard time avoiding it, for it affects millions of Americans. It involves the welfare system, overhauled in 1996 by a Republican Congress and a Democratic president, Mr. Clinton, who had pledged to ‘end welfare as we know it.’ He made good on that promise. Welfare as we knew it went away. But poverty as we know it never ended, a stark reality shaping the latest video documentary from Retro Report, which examines major news events of the past and their reverberations…”

Safety Net Programs for Poor Families

  • The end of welfare as we know it, By Alana Semuels, April 1, 2016, The Atlantic: “By the numbers, welfare reform was a success. More than 13 million people received cash assistance from the government in 1995, before the law was passed. Today, just 3 million do. ‘Simply put, welfare reform worked because we all worked together,’ Bill Clinton, who signed into law welfare reform, or the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times in 2006. Clinton had campaigned on a pledge to ‘end welfare as we know it’ and today it is all too apparent that he succeeded…”
  • Welfare time limits save Michigan millions, but cost 32,090 families, By Emily Lawler, April 5, 2016, MLive: “Since Michigan enacted sweeping welfare changes nearly five years ago, more than $62 million has been saved. But for 32,090 families, those savings means they can never get cash assistance, even in the most dire of emergencies. In 2011, Michigan’s legislature tightened and started enforcing time limits on cash assistance, or what the state calls its Family Independence Program. The move was swift…”
  • Maine’s welfare policies have taken a turn, with dire consequences for kids, By Sandy Butler and Luisa Deprez, March 8, 2016, Bangor Daily News: “Changes in public policy motivated by politics, not facts, have been disastrous for Maine children. Since Congress passed ‘welfare reform’ 20 years ago, it has become increasingly clear that many of these so-called reforms have failed, leaving many parents and children in deeper poverty without sustainable employment. Many of these policies simply were not based in the realities of people’s lives and ignore the economic environment people are living in. They are unsupported by social science research or evidence and have left far too many families and children behind…”
  • Stripping D.C.’s poor families of their last income source, By Judith Sandalow, March 11, 2016, Washington Post: “Winter snowstorms send most parents into panic mode. When my boys were young, I remember doing the calculations. Are schools closed? Can I find someone to watch them? It’s even more of a burden for families struggling to make ends meet. Their list of questions grows more urgent. If I miss my shift at work, will I get fired? Is there enough food in the house to feed the kids? How are we going to stay warm when the heat’s been turned off..?”
  • Legislature battles over poverty – but agreement possible, By Matthew Albright, April 5, 2016, News Journal: “When DuPont Co. came calling, it took the General Assembly only days to pass a pair of corporate tax breaks worth tens of millions of dollars. But after Democrats and Republicans alike sprinted to protect high-end research and management jobs, lawmakers are now deliberating on how to help those on the opposite end of the income ladder – those languishing in poverty. Some of that discussion has already bogged down in familiar partisan battlefields, like debates over the minimum wage and the size and scope of a taxpayer-funded safety net…”

Drug Testing and Public Assistance Programs

Welfare drug tests to start in state, By Spencer Williams, March 24, 2016, Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette: “State officials soon will start a statewide program of drug screening and testing for the heads of thousands of needy Arkansas families who apply for and receive government aid.  On Wednesday, the head of the Department of Workforce Services, Daryl Bassett, said he expects the state to begin statewide screening and testing within ‘seven to 10 days.’ Supporters claim the program will improve the quality of the workforce, send those in need to drug treatment and safeguard government money from being spent by drug users. But critics argue the program could cost too much for its return…”

TANF Benefits – New Jersey

Should N.J. raise welfare grants to reduce child poverty?, By Susan K. Livio, February 12, 2016, Star-Ledger: “After decades of pleading with state leaders to raise the value of welfare benefits in New Jersey, anti-poverty groups joined with top lawmakers at the Statehouse Thursday who vowed to phase-in a 30-percent increase over the next three years…”

Drug Testing and Public Assistance Programs

  • Drug testing for benefits in Tennessee yields only 65 positives, By Anita Wadhwani, February 7, 2016, The Tennessean: “A Tennessee law requiring drug screening and testing of public benefit seekers has yielded few positives for illicit drugs — and no one has been denied benefits for failing a drug test, though scores of people have walked away from the application process.  Just 65 of 39,121 people applying for a cash assistance program known as Families First in Tennessee tested positive for illegal substances or drugs for which they had no prescription since the law was implemented July 1, 2014, according to data provided by the Department of Human Services to The Tennessean…”
  • Alabama would be allowed to drug test food stamp recipients under proposal by Rep. Robert Aderholt, By Leada Gore, February 12, 2016, AL.com: “Food stamp recipients could be subject to drug testing under a plan unveiled Thursday by Alabama Congressman Robert Aderholt. Rep. Aderholt, R-Haleyville, said his  proposal would allow states to opt into mandatory drug testing as a requirement for receiving food stamps…”

Safety Net Programs – Pennsylvania, Kansas, Missouri

  • Three-month time limit on food stamps to affect many in Allegheny County, By Kate Giammarise, January 4, 2016, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: “A three-month time limit on food stamps for unemployed or underemployed adults ages 18 to 50 who aren’t disabled or raising minor children will apply to most of Allegheny County and southwestern Pennsylvania in 2016, according to a recent federal decision. The change is due to a requirement in the 1996 welfare overhaul law that hasn’t been in effect for many years because of high unemployment rates during the recession. As unemployment rates continue to fall, some parts of Pennsylvania will be subject to the rule this year, though areas with more persistent high unemployment are exempt…”
  • Gov. Sam Brownback announces mentoring program for welfare recipients, By Bryan Lowry, January 6, 2016, Wichita Eagle: “Gov. Sam Brownback unveiled a mentoring program for welfare recipients Wednesday, a program he hopes will help lift low-income families out of poverty.  The program aims to reduce the amount of time participants rely on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, more commonly known as welfare, by pairing them with community volunteers and helping them pursue education and employment. It is based on a similar program used by the Kansas Department of Corrections to curb recidivism…”
  • Missouri’s social safety net shrinking with new laws, Associated Press, January 1, 2016, Kansas City Star: “Missouri’s social safety net will shrink in January as new laws force an end to welfare payments for some families and reduce how long the unemployed can receive benefits to one of the shortest periods nationally…”

TANF Time Limits and Domestic Abuse Survivors

Abused and impoverished: Domestic abuse survivors vexed by new welfare limitations, By Natalia Alamdari, November 3, 2015, Columbia Missourian: “Kenya was 15 when she started dating him. She gave birth to their son, Kayden, by the time she was 16. Although still a child herself, Kenya knew the hitting and the name-calling were wrong. Having your hair pulled and being yelled at in public wasn’t normal, right? But still, ‘all I wanted was for him to care about me,’ she said. So Kenya stayed with her abusive boyfriend. She was too young to sign a lease for her own apartment and had nowhere else to go…”

TANF Work Requirements – Ohio

Ohio wants easing of federal welfare-to-work rules, By Catherine Candisky, November 2, 2015, Columbus Dispatch: “Gov. John Kasich’s administration has asked federal regulators for greater flexibility in work requirements to help prepare welfare recipients for jobs. The Republican governor continues to support mandating work and education for most adults receiving public benefits. But state officials say federal rules are ‘overly prescriptive’ and make it difficult to prepare welfare recipients for jobs…”

State Restrictions on Public Assistance for Drug Felons

States rethink restrictions on food stamps, welfare for drug felons, By Rebecca Beitsch, July 30, 2015, Stateline: “Johnny Waller Jr.’s 1998 felony drug conviction has haunted him since the day he left a Nebraska prison in 2001. Waller, now 38, applied for 175 jobs without getting one. He had trouble getting a federal loan for college because of his drug conviction, so he started his own janitorial business, in Kansas City, Missouri. And when his toddler son, Jordyn, was diagnosed with stomach cancer and needed full-time care, Waller’s record disqualified him from receiving food stamps. ‘I really needed assistance there,’ Waller said of the time in 2007 he had to give up his job to care for Jordyn. But he couldn’t get it, he said, because of a conviction ‘when I was 18 years old that didn’t have anything to do with my son…'”

Measuring Poverty in Schools

To measure poverty, states look beyond free lunch, By Amy Scott, June 23, 2015, Marketplace: “For years, the federal school meals program has been one of the most powerful forces in education. Not just because it feeds kids, but because the percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced-price meals has been the main way schools measure poverty. That number, in turn, can impact everything from school funding levels to accountability programs.  But that’s changing. Massachusetts has introduced a new way of measuring poverty in its schools…”

Participation in Public Assistance Programs

  • What it really means to rely on food stamps and welfare, By Emily Badger, May 29, 2015, Washington Post: “Public dependence isn’t a permanent condition, although we often talk about people in need of government aid as if they constitute some kind of fixed class — as if welfare recipients have always needed welfare, as if the families on food stamps today are exactly the same ones on food stamps a decade ago.  The reality is that Americans who need government aid, like Americans living below the poverty line, represent a shifting population…”
  • 1 in 5 Americans receive government assistance: food stamps, welfare, Medicaid details, By Rich Exner, May 28, 2015, Cleveland Plain Dealer: “One in five Americans received monthly assistance from at least one of a variety of government programs throughout  2012, a report issued Thursday by the Census Bureau says. The report estimated that 52.2 million Americans — or 21.3 percent of the people in the United States — received assistance each month during 2012…”
  • Census: No. of Americans on assistance may be leveling off, By Jesse Holland (AP), May 28, 2015, Lexington Herald-Leader: “The once-increasing number of Americans getting some kind of public assistance from the U.S. government may be slowing down, according to new information from the U.S. Census Bureau. Approximately 52.2 million Americans — or 21.3 percent — participated in one or more of six poverty assistance programs on average each month in 2012, a new Census report released Thursday said. Although higher than the 20.9 percent found in 2011, government officials said the 2012 number is not a statistically significant change from the previous year’s.

Welfare Time Limits – Arizona

Arizona sharply limits welfare to 12 months, Associated Press, May 20, 2015, Arizona Republic: “Facing a $1 billion budget deficit, Arizona’s Republican-led Legislature has reduced the lifetime limit for welfare recipients to the shortest window in the nation. Low-income families on welfare will now have their benefits cut off after just 12 months. As a result, the Arizona Department of Economic Security will drop at least 1,600 families — including more than 2,700 children — from the state’s federally funded welfare program on July 1, 2016…”

Welfare Reform – Kansas

$25 ATM limit for Kansas welfare recipients may violate federal law, By Lindsay Wise and Dion Lefler, May 16, 2015, Wichita Eagle: “A first-of-its-kind provision that prevents welfare recipients in Kansas from withdrawing more than $25 a day from an ATM might violate federal law – and could jeopardize the state’s federal funding if not amended. The Social Security Act requires states to ensure that recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, ‘have adequate access to their cash assistance’ and can withdraw money ‘with minimal fees or charges.’  At stake is about $102 million in TANF block grant money that Kansas receives every year from the federal government.  The ATM limit was added as an amendment to a welfare overhaul bill signed in April by Gov. Sam Brownback…”

Federal Programs and Poverty Alleviation

Safety net does more to ease poverty than previously thought, new study finds, By Greg Sargent, May 6, 2015, Washington Post: “The Baltimore riots have re-ignited the ideological wars over the efficacy of government spending to alleviate poverty, with Republicans who want to slash the budget seizing on images of urban chaos to argue that federal anti-poverty policy has been an abject failure at accomplishing its own goal. Paul Ryan suggests dumping more cash into the bottomless pit otherwise known as federal spending on the poor will only produce the ‘same failed result.’  But a new study being released today finds that the federal safety net may actually be doing more to alleviate poverty than previously thought. Thestudy, from the left-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, uses a new statistical technique to measure the impact of federal programs on the poverty rate, correcting for what it says are defects in previous accounting methods…”