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Welfare (as we know it) Ends – Clinton Signs Welfare Reform Legislation

Victor Pinzon

CONCERN–A homeless single mother awaits entrance at San Diego’s Emergency Lodge, which has had $100,000 in funding cut by the United Way.

Historic support of federal AFDC money ends as nation takes new turn

By Robert Docter –

President Bill Clinton has signed the controversial Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 – thus ending “welfare as we know it.” In the process, major responsibilities for the care of the needy have been shifted to states through block grants. The impact of the legislation on the nation’s major charities is as yet undetermined.

While the national welfare system has long been severely criticized by almost everyone as overly inflexible, anti-work, anti-family, degrading and demoralizing of its recipients and a failure in reducing poverty, the action also eliminates a vital safety-net for 12.8 million Americans, 8 million of whom are children who receive support under Aid to Families of Dependent Children (AFDC). The sweeping change in domestic social policy reverses programs first initiated during the Depression.

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan (D – New York), a highly respected sociologist, described the legislation as “welfare repeal” and wondered openly “if the nation is ready for the profound social change this legislation will set in motion.”

As he signed the legislation, Clinton stated: “What we are trying to do today is to overcome the flaws of the welfare system for the people who are trapped in it.” He also made it clear that he believed the nutritional programs which support working people and children as well as cuts in support of programs for legal immigrants were far too deep and had nothing to do with welfare reform.

The primary design of social programs has now been passed to the states. This makes it extremely difficult to determine the roles required of charitable agencies like The Salvation Army. If a period of of severe economic downturn in conjunction with a rising poverty rate it is possible that state budgets will be unable to cope with the increased need. Each state will have the responsibility to establish its own eligibility standards and benefits levels.

How the states will handle the increased flexibility is as yet unknown. Using the flexibility afforded them under the 1988 Family Support Act, most have reduced benefits–especially those associated with the birth of an additional child. Moreover, states whose welfare benefits have been relatively high have become “welfare magnets” that attract poor people. In 1991, the maximum yearly benefit paid in one state was less than $6,000 while the maximum benefit in another was almost twice that. The fear of becoming a “welfare magnet” could cause many states to chop benefits significantly.

The old welfare system tended not to encourage work by its recipients. If a mother with a child on AFDC began working, she received less in support, jeopardized her medical work program, her housing and her food stamps. The new approach provides incentives such as a five-year time limit as a welfare recipient as well as an earned income tax credit. States will need to expand health insurance, child care services and child support as additional incentives to work.

Obviously, if current welfare recipients are required to work, they will need assistnce in job search skills and vocational training. The current thinking is that these jobs will be in the private sector, and the new legislation does provide incentives to private business for hiring and keeping welfare recipients.

The Army’s social service constituency is the poor, and many Army programs are supported with Federal block grant funding to states. Women who have children while in their teens tend to live in poverty. Single parent pregnant minor programs, substance abuse programs, safety-net food programs, homeless shelter programs, emergency social service, child care and legal immigrant services are all Army programs which will be impacted in an as yet undetermined way by this legislation.

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