Has Our Welfare Reform Failed Us? Essays and Papers

This essay has a total of 2808 words and 11 pages.

Has Our Welfare Reform Failed Us?

Has Our Welfare Reform Failed Us?

Welfare is a means of financial assistant for poverty stricken individuals. Year after
year presidents have attempted to reconstruct the welfare system so it does not act as a
backbone for those who do not want to work, and year after year success seemed out of
reach. That is, until President Bill Clinton thought he had the answer. He signed the new
welfare reform act in August of 1996, vowing to "end welfare as we know it." Terminating a
62 year-old federal entitlement, President Clinton put a limit on how long one can receive
federal welfare assistance (Casse 36). Yet, this so called reform is not that at all. The
government doesn't see what happens to ex-welfare recipients after they are released from
the program, and the youth of our country is catching the wrath of the reform. There are
so many questions left unanswered about the reform.

The new welfare reform act put limit on how long one can receive federal assistance.
Receivers of welfare were ordered to seek and find employment or go to school within two
years or lose assistance. If a job or education were not obtained within this period of
time assistance would be terminated after five years. The law also demanded that each
state had to determine eligibility. It is a federal problem no longer. The law gives a
block grant to each of the 50 states, distributing cash assistance when deemed necessary.
As Casse points out, the law required each state to construct work requirements as a part
of its welfare program. By the year 2002, states will need to show that at least 50% of
those receiving welfare are involved in some form of work or training in exchange for
benefits. These changes to the welfare system all come with exemptions, qualifications,
alternative requirements, and rules and regulations that vary from state to state (Casse

At first glance the rules for welfare recipients look like a sufficient way to stop
welfare leeches, but if legislatures put heart-felt thought into this new plan they would
have realized all of the flaws it carried. President Clinton was too busy boasting and
bragging about the declining caseloads to notice the real effect it was having on
everyone. A few huge problems drown out the welfare reformers' chorus. According to Telly,
"The first and most obvious is that it was too soon to make any meaningful evaluation."
Telly also notes that, "The law Clinton signed in August of 1996 left eligibility
standards and rules largely up to each states government, which were just starting to
create new rules" (Telly8). The state that was furthest along in its welfare plan and
which has received the most attention for cutting the welfare roles was Wisconsin, but
this welfare-form program just went into effect on September 1, 1997 (Telly 8). "We've
just implanted a program and we don't have any results yet," Nan Brien of Wisconsin
Council on Children and Families points out (8). "Usually you can celebrate results, not
beginnings." So the declining caseloads that President Clinton spoke of so highly of are
not impressive and whatever they mean, they don't tell us much, if anything, about the
impact of the 1996 reform (Heim 1147).

The second problem that drowns out the welfare reformers' chorus is the fact that the
government does not know what happens to people after their assistance is cut off. Some
people get "penalized" if they can't find a job, and their benefits get cut back because
they are not working or enrolled in the work program that the state offers. This sometimes
hurts people when they are expecting X amount of money to feed their family for the month
and receive significantly less than what they normally would. It's very hard to make your
food stamps last for the whole month or until you find a job, enroll into school, or some
kind of training program. For example, the government uses a line item veto, which
eliminates any method for tracking people after they are kicked off welfare (Telly 8.) The
government would like us to believe that more than 1.4 million people who have gotten off
welfare since the reform was signed have landed jobs (Heim 1147). The reason they have not
is because the jobs are not there. These are not enough for every welfare recipient.
According to Jobs With Justice, the odds are 96 to 1 that a welfare worker will find a job
that pays a living wage (Murphy 13). But in most places there is either no work available,
no training for the jobs that do exist, or no funds to fit trainees to appropriate work
(Wills 380).

According to Telly, if ex-welfare workers beat the odds and achieve employment, the wages
they earn still put them below the poverty line. Full-time work at minimum wage gives a
family $824.00 a month before taxes. Infant care runs $500 to $600 a month leaving a
fatherless family of 3 with $324 to $224 to pay all of their bills. This leaves no funds
for emergencies. If infant care is needed because a child gets ill, that family has to go
back on welfare to pay for hospital fees. Most welfare systems will deny former recipients
the chance to receive assistance right away. This, and other reasons, is why there is a 30
percent increase in the population of homeless shelters in Milwaukee since welfare rules
were tightened (Telly 8).

Plenty of U.S. citizens have lost access to food stamps, too. The problem: Before welfare
reform, the coupons were handed out in the welfare office. But the two programs were
delinked under the 1996 law, leading to massive confusion among families who wrongly
figured they were ineligible for food aid unless they were also on welfare. Since 1996,
the number of people collecting food stamps has sunk by one-third, to 17 million. It's not
just a stronger economy, either: Fewer than half of the eligible working families get
them, studies show (Bernstein 38).

The government has failed to acknowledge statistics like those, and those plainly show
that pushing these people into jobs that pay them little to nothing ruins other employee's
jobs such as 46-year old Cynthia Smith. Cynthia has worked for 5 years as a school bus
monitor for Baltimore's public schools. Over the course of those 5 years Cynthia's
paycheck went from $5 an hour to $7 an hour. But now she may loose her job because of the
eight welfare recipients that were assigned to her private-sector work site to receive
work experience or training. These trainees are not getting wages. They are simply
receiving $350 a month welfare grant for 30 hours of work. Just $2 an hour. Cynthia says,
"Now they want me to train the workfare workers. I'm supposed to train them so that when I
come back to work I September they give away my job to someone they don't have to pay for?
No way!" (Cooper 11).

Cynthia might be correct. Cooper points out, "Already in Baltimore, Maryland an estimated
1,000 low wageworkers have been displaced by workfare trainees working off their welfare
grant at less time than minimum-wage equivalents" (11). "In the public schools alone, 208
welfare recipients have been deployed as "custodial trainees" (11). "At Thurgood Marshall
School, fifteen workfare trainees took the jobs of an equal number of former contract
workers whose wages would have gone up because of the living wage stipulation" (11).
According to Cooper, "The trainees make about $1.50 an hour. Between 6,000 to 17,000
Baltimore welfare recipients will be forced into the job market over the next 2 years, in
an area that anticipates no new job growth" (11). Now those who had some form of income
are looking for federal assistance, and those who were receiving federal assistance have
income. Gerald McEnter says, "It's like a revolving door" (11). Where do people go after
workfare? They go to the jobs of those who don't receive assistance.

According to another Jobs With Justice publication, "Welfare Reform As We Know It," the
number of public access recipients able to attend school is dropping rapidly. At Milwaukee
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