House Bill Forces the Poor to Work More
The massive budget bill that essentially starves the poor would also require some two million welfare recipients to increase their hours of work, training and community service. The cuts for food stamp, student loan and medicaid programs have been covered by the national media, but the changes in welfare requirements have been largely ignored. The bill would require welfare recipients to spend 40 hours a week in activities out of the house, substantially more than they do now.
The Washington Post has a lengthy piece on the new requirements:
Democrats and liberal-advocacy groups say the stricter work rules are not backed up by the funding to subsidize child care. Moreover, the budget bill's cuts to food stamps and Medicaid could add still more financial pressure as welfare recipients transition to the ranks of the working poor.
"There is no good argument for these increased work requirements," said Peter Edelman, a Georgetown University law professor who quit the Clinton administration in protest over the 1996 welfare restructuring. "People have demonstrated they wanted to get off welfare and go to work. They don't need an extra push with a stick."
The new changes are a follow-on to the 1996 bill, whose supporters argued it was needed to end the cycle of dependence on government.
Wade Horn, the assistant secretary for children and families at the Department of Health and Human Services, disputed critics who opposed the 1996 changes, which he said have been successful. The changes in the House bill reflect the reality that part-time, low-wage work cannot lift a family out of poverty, but even at modest wages, workers can pull themselves above the poverty line by working full time and collecting the earned-income tax credit, he said.
"We're not big, mean conservatives trying to punish the poor," he said. "States have been focusing on part-time work because that's what we told them to do. The standard should be what most Americans think work is: full-time work."
The changes in the House bill involve multiple layers to ensure that states stick to tougher work rules. Under the requirements imposed in 1996, states are supposed to have half their welfare recipients working to avoid sanctions that eat into their welfare block grants. Welfare recipients have to work, do community service or take vocational-education classes for 20 hours a week. They are also expected to be out of the house 10 more hours a week, in education, volunteer or community-service programs.