By Tom Blumer | Special to Ohio Watchdog
On July 12, using dense language only career bureaucrats and those trying to hide their true intent from the public would love, President Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services issued a memorandum through its Administration for Children & Families effectively giving states the ability, after easily obtaining federal government waivers, to eliminate work requirements in its Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, known to most as “welfare” or “traditional welfare.”
Taxpayers in Ohio, which has finally seen its welfare rolls shrink during the past year, should be especially concerned.
Robert Rector at the Heritage Foundation has studied HHS’s “Information Memorandum,” and accurately asserts that the agency’s move “effectively guts” welfare reform, one of the signature bipartisan legislative achievements of the 1990s.
Since its passage in 1996, the core of the law, formally known as the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, has been its requirement that recipients begin working after two years of receiving benefits and its lifetime limit of five years on federally-paid benefits.
From 1994 to 1996, the average caseload under Aid for Families with Dependent Children, the old name for traditional welfare, dropped from 14.2 million, including 4.6 million adults, to 12.3 million, including 3.9 million adults. This occurred largely because of an improving economy but at least partially because of the successful welfare-to-work experiments of then-Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson and several other state chief executives.
After the passage of welfare reform, average enrollment in TANF, which replaced AFDC, fell below 6 million to 4.5 million children and 1.5 million adults in 2000. The entry of millions of adults into the workforce during the late 1990s arguably contributed significantly to that period’s robust economic growth. As they became taxpayers instead of tax consumers, these new workers helped contribute to the budget surpluses the federal government reported from fiscal 1998 through 2001.
To the surprise of many, TANF enrollment continued to drop during the George W. Bush administration, even during the 2001 recession and especially thereafter. By June 2008, when the recession as traditionally defined (two consecutive quarters of economic contraction) began, total TANF enrollment was down to 3.73 million.
Since then, after peaking at 4.51 million in November 2010, TANF enrollment has fallen to 4.26 million as of December 2011, the latest data available. That net increase of 530,000 since the recession began is not nearly by as much as many predicted, especially after considering that almost half of the uptick has taken place in just one state — California. Excluding the once-Golden State, barely 1 percent of Americans are on welfare, compared to almost 5 percent during the mid-1990s.
Unfortunately, Ohio has been a bit of a laggard in bringing down its welfare population. In fact, from 2005 through 2010, the state’s caseload actually grew from 176,000 to 238,000. Last year, the first year of Gov. John Kasich’s administration, enrollment shrank by 19 percent to 193,000 — a big improvement, but a number which, at 1.7 percent of the state’s population of 11.5 million, is still higher than it should be.
It is not unreasonable to believe that many of those who recently left Ohio’s welfare rolls would like to be able to get back on instead of having to work at jobs they may not thoroughly enjoy each and every day.
Sadly, a welfare-permissive environment remains strong in many sections of the southeastern part of the state, which is exactly where many of the new blue-collar jobs created by the oil and natural gas extraction technique known as hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” hopefully could appear. It would be a shame if companies in this industry and others considering adding operations in the Buckeye State conclude that they can’t find the workers they need at least partially because a latent dependency culture combined with an expanded buffet of welfare-state benefits — food stamps, Section 8 housing, free cellphones, and now work requirement-free TANF — makes staying on the dole look more attractive than working for a living.