Hello? GOPs? Your favorite wedge issue is coming back.

A mostly political weblog.
Feb. 7 2009 4:32 PM

Hello? GOPs? Your favorite wedge issue is coming back.

Shouldn't Republicans be making more of a fuss about the provision in the stimulus bill-- both House and Senate versions, apparently --that spends $2-3 billion to the states for "temporary welfare payments"? I initially thought Charles Hurt of the N.Y. Post was being alarmist when he suggested the provision would "drastically undo two decades of welfare reforms." The essence of the 1996 reform was ending the individual legal  entitlement to AFDC (cash aid to single mothers, basically) and replacing it with state-run programs that, in theory, require recipients to enter the work force. The stimulus bill doesn't rip up that basic deal, as I understand it. But it is part of a larger liberal campaign ** to use the recession to weaken work requirements and let millions of non-working single mothers back on the welfare rolls . Specifically, it would apparently reward states that expand their welfare caseloads --even if the increase is only the product of loosened work requirements rather than a worsening local economy.

Nothing wrong with helping states avoid anti-stimulating cuts in a recession. Nothing wrong with targeting money to the poorest, who are most likely to spend it quickly. But why use the aid specifically to encourage expansion of welfare ? This isn't "welfare" as only conservative Republicans would define it --i.e. any means-tested assistance. This is welfare as everyone would define it--cash assistance to able-bodied single mothers (or fathers) who may or may not be working, as in the old, despised AFDC program. Better to use the money (and more) to create public jobs*** for these would-be recipients if private sector jobs have dried up , even if that upsets municipal employee unions (which don't want welfare recipients doing jobs their members might do).  Don't revive the old AFDC principle that if you have a child, you can count on the government to take care of you with cash aid even if you don't work.

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At the very least the extra aid to the states shouldn't be triggered by caseload expansion . (You could, for example, give states aid in proportion to their local unemployment rate.)

You would think this would be a potential killer issue for the GOPs--"See, the Democrats already want to undo welfare reform"--and Obama, being sensitive to the charge, might quickly back down. It's easiest to whack the camel when only its nose is in the tent, no?

More tk, as I find out more. ...

**--See, for example, Peter Edelman's comments here .

***--These could either be "workfare" jobs (required once you are receiving welfare) or last-resort WPA-style jobs (which pay people for their work without ever signing them up for welfare). ...

Update: Thanks to Rob Neppell, here is the relevant provision in the House bill , and in the pre-compromise Senate bill.  The Nelson/Collins compromise language does not seem to be available yet. ...  Note that the extra federal money seems clearly  tied to increased welfare caseloads , not increased unemployment or poverty or other measure of need:.

A State meets the requirement of this clause for a quarter if the average monthly assistance caseload of the State for the quarter exceeds the average monthly assistance caseload of the State for the corresponding quarter in the emergency fund base year of the State.

If a state somehow succeeds at placing would-be recipients in jobs, it's out of luck under this provision. To get the extra federal money, it has to get more people on welfare (though presumably it could count "workfare" participants if it happens to have a workfare program). .... 2:52 P.M.

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