There is only one explanation why the Obama administration was bold enough to drastically expand the welfare state: His political advisors know that criticism over suspending welfare work requirements and increasing food stamps will invoke an emotional debate over the “callous versus the caring.”
Democrats will love this discussion—Republicans not so much. But this great debate is worth airing.
It begins in 1996 when President Bill Clinton, in a bi-partisan effort, ended a multi-decade guarantee of federal assistance with passage of one of the most successful policy initiatives in generations. The landmark welfare reform law eliminated AFDC—Aid to Families with Dependent Children—as an entitlement.
The absence of a work requirement had long been a major deficiency in the system and responsible for many recipients adopting welfare as a fixture in their lives rather than as a source of temporary assistance. No-strings guaranteed cash, food stamps, education, job training, health and childcare discouraged many from seeking work. Because welfare benefits exceed what someone could earn working a minimum wage job, recipients could stay home. By contrast, working moms hit the bricks every day to provide for their families.
With the inclusion of the Clinton work requirement, millions moved from welfare to work. But the historic measure proved to be a temporary fix to a generational problem.
The Obama administration’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) just reversed the key element of the law. Waived was the requirement that most recipients find work within two years. The mandate that previously pushed people off welfare is supplanted with a fresh incentive for young mothers to create a lifestyle using Obama’s “stash” and “marry the state” rather than the father of their children.
It is well documented that welfare moms tend to be characterized by high levels of joblessness, illiteracy, illegitimacy, drug abuse and violence. That typically means these family units also have the smallest incomes, the least education, longest stays in poverty and constitute the heaviest demand for public dollars.
Most enter the cycle of poverty because of the disintegration of families, or out of wedlock births –but not working often traps them there. And paying them to stay home reinforces the corrupting influence of welfare.
Enforcing rather than relaxing the obligation to work would seem the best policy to get people to understand the principles of personal responsibility.
Obama would have us believe that his charted path to permanent dependency is a compassionate attempt to repair a fraying safety net. And his misadventure is not in isolation.
Since Obama took office, the food stamp budget has more than doubled. Expect a larger increase. The Department of Agriculture (USDA) just launched a $3 million promotional campaign that includes radio commercials to entice more Americans to apply for food stamps.
Granted, this outpouring of government largesse comes amid clear signals that the ranks of America’s poor are on track to climb to levels unseen in half a century. But much of the increased social welfare demand is attributable to the hemorrhaging of jobs from the national economy and the Obama administration’s delusion over what constitutes effective stimulus.
So don’t expect to hear Obama admit that the problem with many welfare moms is not their employability, but their lack of commitment to make a serious attempt to enter the job market. There will be no hint that recipients generally comprise a cadre of people who do not seek and have no interest in the available low-paying jobs.
The debate over whether growing poverty results from government-induced behavior or from a lack of income and opportunity won’t end here. What we know for sure is that Obama has a need to be the Messiah that extricates the poor from his failed economic policies. To be seen as “caring” he needs a dependent voting bloc that believes success depends not on individual initiative but on forces beyond his or her control. And he wants America to quietly accept the welfare beast he’s reviving, or risk being labeled “callous.”