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Tags: Welfare

Government Usually Fails at ‘Making Sure Everybody’s Got a Shot’



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NBC News has found Obama’s “I actually believe in redistribution” quote from 1998 and lays out the full context; they find the full context quite exculpatory:

I think the trick is figuring out how do we structure government systems that pool resources and hence facilitate some redistribution because I actually believe in redistribution, at least at a certain level to make sure that everybody’s got a shot. How do we pool resources at the same time as we decentralize delivery systems in ways that both foster competition, can work in the marketplace, and can foster innovation at the local level and can be tailored to particular communities.

One can argue that the “redistribution” comment is nothing really new — it’s not all that different from his “spread the wealth around” comment to Joe the Plumber in autumn 2008 — but perhaps it’s the second part of Obama’s comment that deserves more scrutiny, anyway. Because lots of politicians continue to talk about the priority of “making sure everybody’s got a shot.” Almost every American believes in it, and voters like to hear politicians talking about how important that is.

The problem is that government does a pretty lousy job of “making sure everybody’s got a shot.”

Think about it; we spend about $600 billion on public schools, more per pupil than any other country except Switzerland, and the results are consistently disappointing as a whole: “14th out of 34 OECD countries for reading skills, 17th for science and a below-average 25th for mathematics.”

The federal government spends about $18 billion per year on “job training” programs, but the GAO has concluded that the data on the effectiveness of job-training programs collecting federal funds is either outdated or nonexistent: “Little is known about the effectiveness of employment and training programs because, since 2004, only five reported conducting an impact study, and about half of all the remaining programs have not had a performance review of any kind.” James Bovard laid out the repeated failure of most federally funded job training programs since 1962.

Most of our anti-poverty programs have made no real dent in the problem, despite the fortunes spent on them: “The Census says 46 million Americans remain mired in poverty, and this is greeted as good news, because demographers had been expecting worse. About 15 percent of Americans are poor. That is the same ratio as in 2010 — and slightly higher than in 1966, despite the $16 trillion Washington has spent fighting poverty since Lyndon Johnson declared war on it.”

Somehow President Obama has gained the reputation as a reformer determined to improve government’s performance, without being much of a reformer, or being much of a critic of how government operates. He opposed welfare reform in the 1990s; his administration approves replacing “job seeking ” with “job training” for welfare recipients; when Obama’s former chief of staff tried to enact Obama’s reforms in Obama’s hometown and faced a teacher’s strike in opposition, the president remained silent.

Obama and his allies keep getting their way — the stimulus, “green jobs” initiatives, Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, TARP, housing assistance — and yet we don’t have that society where “everybody’s got a shot.” Much more harmful than any old comment about redistribution is that Obama and his allies rarely reexamine what they’re doing or ask why their policies aren’t generating the results they want.

Tags: Barack Obama , Education Reform , Government , Welfare

Obama & Sebelius Fundamentally Change Welfare Reform’s Philosophy



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If someone wants to argue that the Romney ad claiming Obama “gutted” the work requirements of the 1996 welfare reform is hyperbolic, I suppose one can make that case. The work requirements aren’t “gutted” yet. But the change is fundamental and potentially quite far-reaching, and at the very least opens the door to making the work requirements optional or toothless.

Some of this has been covered by Mickey Kaus and Dave Weigel, but it’s worth discussing this further as much of the debate on the change to welfare is going to be in the “no, we didn’t”/”yes, you did” tone.

Here’s how HHS lays out the policy change:

While the TANF work participation requirements are contained in section 407, section 402(a)(1)(A)(iii) requires that the state plan “[e]nsure that parents and caretakers receiving assistance under the program engage in work activities in accordance with section 407.”  Thus, HHS has authority to waive compliance with this 402 requirement and authorize a state to test approaches and methods other than those set forth in section 407, including definitions of work activities and engagement, specified limitations, verification procedures, and the calculation of participation rates.  As described below, however, HHS will only consider approving waivers relating to the work participation requirements that make changes intended to lead to more effective means of meeting the work goals of TANF.

In other words, what counts as “work” is now more flexible. Two of the examples that are listed in the HHS announcement are:

  • “Projects that improve collaboration with the workforce and/or post-secondary education systems to test multi-year career pathways models for TANF recipients that combine learning and work.”
  • “Projects that test systematically extending the period in which vocational educational training or job search/readiness programs count toward participation rates, either generally or for particular subgroups, such as an extended training period for those pursuing a credential.  The purpose of such a waiver would be to determine through evaluation whether a program that allows for longer periods in certain activities improves employment outcomes.”

Now, job training and education are wonderful in theory, but the aim is to get welfare recipients into jobs. And the GAO has concluded that the data on the effectiveness of job training programs collecting federal funds is either outdated or nonexistent: “Little is known about the effectiveness of employment and training programs because, since 2004, only five reported conducting an impact study, and about half of all the remaining programs have not had a performance review of any kind.” James Bovard laid out the repeated failure of most federally-funded job training programs since 1962.

Sometimes a “job readiness program” will include teaching self-evidently useful skills like resume writing and techniques for job interviews… and sometimes it will include “self-esteem building“and “instruction on appropriate attire.” A program designed to build up the self-esteem of welfare recipients might be a genuine tool to help them develop the skills to find and hold a job… or it might just be taxpayer-funded happy talk. Either way, the idea of this being an acceptable substitute for the work requirements in place since 1996 seems… dubious. (Then there are the examples of waste and fraud in these programs, spending funds on “free lunches, hotels, flowers, event tickets.”)

Kaus observes that the “job-training is just as good as job-seeking” philosophy dominated welfare programs until 1996, and it was one of the reasons welfare was so unpopular and perceived as a failure. He summarizes, “Job training for welfare recipients always sounds good–instead of making a single mom take a dead end $10/hr job, why not let her stay on the dole while she gets a degree that will let her land a higher paying position? The problem is that if you let single moms mix welfare and training that will encourage more single moms to go on welfare in the first place–sign up, and we’ll pay you to go to community college! The rolls might grow, not shrink. Instead of being deterred from going on the dole–so they just go straight into jobs, bypassing welfare completely–would-be recipients will be lured into signing up first (by the promises of a “multi-year career pathway”) and then be subsidized and prodded to get off.”

Then, of course, there are the ominous implications of two of the proposed changes by Nevada:

  • Exempt the hardest-to-employ population for a period of time (i.e., six months) to allow time for their barriers to be addressed and their household circumstances stabilized;

This is effectively temporarily waiving work requirements. The Romney ad charge that “they just send you a check” is accurate if this provision is approved.

  • Consider measuring outcomes to signify a family’s progression towards self-sufficiency. Job readiness status is a continuum from those with the most barriers, least employable skills and least connection to the workforce to those who have employable skills, who are highly motivated and who only recently became unemployed… Such measures would take into account those individuals with the most significant barriers will need more time and assistance to become self-sufficient, while ensuring satisfactory progression towards that goal.

In effect, Nevada wants any kind of progress or improvement in welfare recipients status to count as “good enough” to meet federal requirements. But in the end, while welfare recipients’ job readiness status may be “a continuum”, employment isn’t a continuum: you’re either employed or you aren’t. The whole point of this section of the law is to get people working.

So even if the Obama administration isn’t “gutting” welfare reform, it is enacting a major philosophical change, one explicitly rejected by those who passed the reform back in 1996. This new policy is a completely legitimate issue for debate in a presidential campaign, and if Romney is guilty of exaggerating the speed of the change and its scope so far, Obama is guilty of dismissing just how fundamental the change is and how far-reaching it may become.

Tags: Barack Obama , Mitt Romney , Welfare

New Romney Ad Hits Obama on Welfare Work Requirements



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Mitt Romney’s campaign is going after Obama on his changes to the 1996 welfare reform act’s work requirements… and probably, in the process, complicating Bill Clinton’s high-profile role in the Democratic convention:

Perhaps the Obama defense for this will be, “look, there are almost 13 million unemployed, 8.2 million working part-time who want full-time work, and 2.5 million marginally attached to the labor force and 852,000 discouraged workers … if no one else is working, why should we expect welfare recipients to do so?”

The ad facts below the fold:

AD FACTS: Script For “Right Choice” VOICEOVER: “In 1996, President Clinton and a bipartisan Congress helped end welfare as we know it.” VIDEO TEXT: “1996 Welfare Reform: ‘Unprecedented Success’” 

·          The Washington Post Headline: “Welfare Reform’s Unprecedented Success” (Bill Archer, “Welfare Reform’s Unprecedented Success,” The Washington Post, 8/10/98)

 VOICEOVER: “By requiring work for welfare.” VIDEO TEXT: “Clinton’s Plan: Requiring Work For Welfare” 

·         Former President Bill Clinton Said The Law Included “Firm, But Fair Work Requirements.” “Today, I have signed into law H.R. 3734, the ‘Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996’…Most important, this Act is tough on work. Not only does it include firm but fair work requirements, it provides $4 billion more in child care than the vetoed bills—so that parents can end their dependency on welfare and go to work—and maintains health and safety standards for day care providers.” (President Bill Clinton, Statement, 8/22/96)

#more#

VOICEOVER: “But on July 12th, President Obama quietly announced a plan to gut welfare reform by dropping work requirements.” VIDEO TEXT: “Obama Guts Welfare Reform” 

·         The Heritage Foundation Headline: “Obama Guts Welfare Reform” (Robert Rector and Kiki Bradley, “Obama Guts Welfare Reform,” The Heritage Foundation, 7/12/12)

 

·         The Associated Press Headline: “Obama Administration Opens The Door For States To Seek Major Changes In Welfare-To-Work Law”(Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, “Obama Administration Opens The Door For States To Seek Major Changes In Welfare-To-Work Law,” The Associated Press, 7/13/12)

 VIDEO TEXT: “Obama Drops Work Requirements” ·         Obama Administration Department Of Health And Human Services: “HHS Has Authority To Waive Compliance … And Authorize A State To Test Approaches And Methods Other Than Those Set Forth In Section 407 [Work Requirements].” “While the TANF work participation requirements are contained in section 407, section 402(a)(1)(A)(iii) requires that the state plan ‘[e]nsure that parents and caretakers receiving assistance under the program engage in work activities in accordance with section 407.’  Thus, HHS has authority to waive compliance with this 402 requirement and authorize a state to test approaches and methods other than those set forth in section 407, including definitions of work activities and engagement, specified limitations, verification procedures, and the calculation of participation rates.” (Information Memorandum, “Guidance Concerning Waiver And Expenditure Authority Under Section 1115,” Department Of Health And Human Services, 7/12/12) VOICEOVER: “Under Obama’s plan, you wouldn’t have to work and wouldn’t have to train for a job. They just send you your welfare check.” VIDEO TEXT: “Obama’s Plan: You Wouldn’t Have To Work” VIDEO TEXT: “Obama’s Plan: Wouldn’t Have To Train For A Job” VIDEO TEXT: “They Just Send You Your Welfare Check” ·         Obama Administration Department Of Health And Human Services: “Negotiated Employment Outcomes In Lieu Of Participation Rate Requirements … Alternative Approach To Measuring Participation … Comprehensive Universal Engagement System In Lieu Of Certain Participation Requirements.” “The following are examples of projects that states may want to consider – these are illustrative only: Projects that improve coordination with other components of the workforce investment system, including programs operated under the Workforce Investment Act, or to test an innovative approach to use performance-based contracts and management in order to improve employment outcomes; Projects that demonstrate attainment of superior employment outcomes if a state is held accountable for negotiated employment outcomes in lieu of participation rate requirements; Projects under which a state would count individuals in TANF-subsidized jobs but no longer receiving TANF assistance toward participation rates for a specified period of time in conjunction with an evaluation of the effectiveness of a subsidized jobs strategy; Projects that improve collaboration with the workforce and/or post-secondary education systems to test multi-year career pathways models for TANF recipients that combine learning and work; Projects that demonstrate strategies for more effectively serving individuals with disabilities, along with an alternative approach to measuring participation and outcomes for individuals with disabilities; Projects that test the impact of a comprehensive universal engagement system in lieu of certain participation rate requirements; Projects that test systematically extending the period in which vocational educational training or job search/readiness programs count toward participation rates, either generally or for particular subgroups, such as an extended training period for those pursuing a credential.  The purpose of such a waiver would be to determine through evaluation whether a program that allows for longer periods in certain activities improves employment outcomes.” (Information Memorandum, “Guidance Concerning Waiver And Expenditure Authority Under Section 1115,” Department Of Health And Human Services, 7/12/12) VOICEOVER: “And welfare to work goes back to being plain old welfare.” VIDEO TEXT: “Welfare To Work” VIDEO TEXT: “Welfare”

·         Brookings Institution’s Ron Haskins: “Emphasis On Work, Time Limits, And Sanctions Against States That Did Not Place A Large Fraction Of Its Caseload In Work Programs … Was A Historic Reversal Of The Entitlement Welfare Represented By AFDC.” “The most important reform was the replacement of the old Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. The research on TANF yields a coherent picture that will almost certainly stand the test of time. With its emphasis on work, time limits, and sanctions against states that did not place a large fraction of its caseload in work programs and against individuals who refused to meet state work requirements, TANF was a historic reversal of the entitlement welfare represented by AFDC.” (Ron Haskins, “The Outcomes Of 1996 Welfare Reform, Testimony, House Committee On Ways And Means, 7/19/06)

 VIDEO TEXT: “Romney’s Plan: Work For Welfare” VOICEOVER: “Mitt Romney will restore the work requirement because it works.” MITT ROMNEY: “I’m Mitt Romney and I approve this message.”

Tags: Barack Obama , Mitt Romney , Welfare

Cutting Food Stamps



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A thought to add to today’s editorial on Michelle Obama’s child-nutrition program, which has stalled in the House because it would be funded, in part, by cuts to the food-stamp program. I’m no fan of the welfare state, but food stamps are not at the top of my list of things to cut. (Hey, vouchers work! I wonder to what other areas of government spending we might apply that model?) Cutting basic food stamps in order to put more tofu on cafeteria trays in the suburbs doesn’t seem like the right thing to do.

To their credit, 106 Democrats in the House protested this move in a letter to Speaker Pelosi; to their discredit, each and every one of those 106 Democrats already had voted for a bill that cut not $2 billion but $12 billion from the same food-stamp program to support a bailout for spendthrift public schools and relieve pressure for reducing spending on teachers’ and administrators’ salaries and lavish benefits. Which is to say: House Democrats are unwilling to raid the pantries of food-stamp recipients to put more kale in the Pleasantville cafeteria, but they are willing to take bread from the mouths of the poor to fatten an already overfed public-school bureaucracy.

People who still believe, against all evidence, that the Democrats are the party dedicated to looking after the interests of the poor should keep Mrs. Obama in mind.

Tags: Debt , Despair , Fiscal Armageddon , Michelle Obama , Spending , Welfare

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