The devil, they say, is in the details. That certainly applies to presidential budgets.
Consider President Obama’s 2011 budget. It includes a little-noticed request to extend and expand a program that would, effectively, reverse welfare reform.
The $5 billion TANF Emergency Fund, originally created in the infamous “stimulus” package, was supposed to be a short-term infusion of money to states whose welfare caseloads were increasing. The president is now seeking an additional $2.5 billion to expand and extend the emergency fund for another year. Congress is looking for ways to make this happen, either as part of a jobs package or in another legislative vehicle destined for the president’s desk.
The TANF Emergency Fund reverses exactly what made welfare reform successful. The 1996 reform changed the nation’s largest cash entitlement program, known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), to a fixed block grant to states known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Instead of Washington paying states on a per capita basis for every person who entered the welfare rolls, the states now received a fixed amount of money annually that didn’t change according to the size of their caseload. If a state shrunk its caseload by moving people off the rolls and into jobs, it was rewarded by being allowed to keep the money saved.
The 1996 welfare-reform law produced tremendous results. More than 2.7 million families left the welfare rolls for jobs and self-sufficiency. Caseloads dropped from 4.4 million families in 1996 to 1.7 million families in 2007. The poverty rate for black children fell, and the number of single mothers working dramatically increased.
Obama’s TANF Emergency Fund, by contrast, in effect pays states bonus money for increasing the size of their caseloads. Further, this fund is much more generous than the old AFDC system, matching states 80 cents on the dollar for each new case. The 2011 budget request would make this even more generous by reimbursing states 100 percent for cases in the “subsidized employment” category.
To date, according to data from the Health and Human Services Department, only $1.2 billion has been drawn down by states out of the original $5 billion allotment. Yet the administration wants to put another $2.5 billion into the program. It’s clear the states can’t spend the money as fast as the administration wants to dish it out.
Equally disturbing in the president’s budget is a request to end the Marriage and Fatherhood grant program. This program aimed to promote healthy marriages and responsible fatherhood in low-income communities and to spread the message about the importance of marriage. The breakdown of marriage clearly has placed a heavy burden on taxpayers, costing them nearly $300 billion annually. The national out-of-wedlock birthrate is nearly 40 percent, and the African-American out-of-wedlock birthrate is 70 percent.
In place of the Marriage and Fatherhood grant program, the administration would create a $500 million program cleverly named the “Fatherhood, Marriage, and Families Innovation Fund.” However, lengthy summary documents from the administration reveal this to be just another federally funded jobs program.
Overall, the message the president’s budget sends to people in low-income communities is “Stay on welfare and don’t get married.” The same message is the very reason why Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty failed. Enacting the policies requested in President Obama’s budget would only enslave more low-income families to welfare and government dependence, reverse the trend away from generational poverty, and encourage the further breakdown of poor families.
– Katherine Bradley is a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation’s DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society.