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On August 22, 1994, twenty years ago to the day from yesterday, President Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, known as “welfare reform.” As with most things that politicians call “reform,” it was an attempt to deform and restrict the existing system.

The bill replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program with the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program, which block granted the program:

The TANF block grant fundamentally altered both the structure and the allowable uses of federal and state dollars previously spent on AFDC and related programs.  Under TANF, the federal government gives states a fixed block grant totaling $16.5 billion each year and requires them to maintain a certain level of state spending (totaling $10 billion to $11 billion a year), based on a state’s level of spending for AFDC and related programs prior to TANF’s creation.  (This state funding requirement is known as the “maintenance of effort” requirement, or MOE.)  Because the block grant has never been increased or adjusted for inflation, states received 32 percent less in real (inflation-adjusted) dollars in 2014 than they did in 1997.  State minimum-required contributions to TANF have declined even more.  To receive their full TANF block grant, states only have to spend on TANF purposes 80 percent of the amount they spent on AFDC and related programs in 1995.  That “maintenance of effort” requirement isn’t adjusted for inflation, either.
The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP), linked above, has a useful primer on TANF at 18.

Let's look at the "welfare reform" that politicians from both parties praise as a success.

First of all, TANF families have declined dramatically, even when the number of families in poverty increased.

The number of families receiving such benefits per 100 families in poverty has also sharply declined.

TANF was not flexible enough to respond to the increase in need amidst the recession.

Maximum TANF benefits still leave families well below the poverty line.

TANF leads fewer children out of poverty than its predecessor did.

The value of TANF benefits has also fallen over the past 18 years.

Here is CBPP's conclusion:

Looking back over TANF’s history, it is impossible to reconcile the facts with claims that welfare reform was such an extraordinary success that we should use it as a model for reforming other safety net programs.  In TANF’s 18-year history, never-married mothers with a high school education or less made substantial gains in employment in only the first four years — largely due to the roaring economy of the late 1990s — and those gains have almost entirely eroded in the subsequent 14.  It is wishful thinking to assume that we could see the same employment gains we saw in TANF’s early years in today’s sluggish labor market.    

Similarly, the record shows that we cannot rely solely upon states to increase opportunity for the poor.  When states’ cash assistance caseloads fell substantially in the late 1990s, states could have used some of the freed-up funds to increase recipients’ employability.  Instead, they made other choices, including using TANF funds to fill budget holes and to substitute for state funds they had previously used to provide assistance to poor families.  If they wanted to increase opportunity now, they could do so by using more of their TANF funds to help TANF recipients and other low-income parents gain the education and skills they need to qualify for jobs that will help them escape poverty.        

Finally, in light of the growing body of research on the importance of income — and the devastating impact of poverty — on children’s early development, TANF’s far weakened role for families with the most significant employment barriers should cause concern for those who want to provide a better future for poor children.  The safety net (other than TANF) plays an extremely important role in reducing poverty and deep poverty in this country — a role that should be maintained.  The evidence from TANF suggests that applying TANF-like reforms to other safety net programs would likely cause more families to join the ranks of the deeply poor and cause some who are already deeply poor to become even poorer.

Now that we've surveyed what PRWORA has done, let's look at who voted for it.

The bill passed the Senate 78 to 21. 25 Democrats, a narrow majority of the caucus, joined 53 Republicans in passing it.

Rather than going through all of the Democrats who voted for it or against it, let's just look at those still in the political spotlight.

Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State John Kerry, the former senators from Delaware and Massachusetts respectively, both voted for it.

Six senators who voted for the bill then are still in the Senate:

Tom Harkin (D-IA)
Carl Levin (D-MI)
Barb Mikulski (D-MD)
Harry Reid (D-NV)
Jay Rockefeller (W-WV)
Ron Wyden (D-OR)

Four Senators who voted against it then are still in the Senate:

Barbara Boxer (D-CA)
Diane Feinstein (D-CA)
Pat Leahy (D-VT)
Patty Murray (D-WA)

The bill passed the House 328 to 101. Democrats split evenly 98-98.

18 of the 98 YEA votes are still in Congress.

Ben Cardin (D-MD), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Tim Johnson (D-SD), and Jack Reed (D-RI) are in the Senate.

14 are still in the House:

Sanford Bishop (GA-02)
Pete DeFazio (OR-04)
John Dingell (MI-12)
Lloyd Doggett (TX-35)
Mike Doyle (PA-14)
Steny Hoyer (MD-05)
Marcy Kaptur (OH-09)
Sandy Levin (MI-09)
Nita Lowey (NY-17)
Jim Moran (VA-08)
Richard Neal (MA-01)
Frank Pallone (NJ-06)
Collin Peterson (MN-07)
Pete Visclosky (IN-01)

37 of the Democratic NAY votes are still in Congress.

Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Ed Markey (D-MA), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) are now in the Senate.

33 are in the House:

Xavier Becerra (CA-34)
Earl Blumenauer (OR-03)
Corrine Brown (FL-05)
Jim Clyburn (SC-06)
John Conyers (MI-13)
Elijah Cummings (MD-07)
Eliot Engel (NY-16)
Ann Eshoo (CA-18)
Chaka Fattah (PA-02)
Sam Farr (CA-20)
Gene Green (TX-29)
Luis Gutierrez (IL-04)
Alcee Hastings (FL-23)
Sheila Jackson Lee (TX-18)
Eddie B. Johnson (TX-30)
John Lewis (GA-05)
Zoe Lofgren (CA-19)
Carolyn Maloney (NY-12)
Jim McDermott (WA-07)
George Miller (CA-11)
Jerry Nadler (NY-10)
Ed Pastor (AZ-07)
Nancy Pelosi (CA-12)
Nick Rahall (WV-03)
Charlie Rangel (NY-13)
Lucille Roybal-Allard (CA-40)
Bobby Rush (IL-01)
Bobby Scott (VA-03)
Jose Serrano (NY-15)
Louise Slaughter (NY-25)
Bennie Thompson (MS-02)
Nydia Velazquez (NY-07)
Henry Waxman (CA-33)

Bernie Sanders (I-VT) voted against it as a representative and, of course, is now in the Senate.

Originally posted to Liberty Equality Fraternity and Trees on Sat Aug 23, 2014 at 07:06 AM PDT.

Also republished by New Jersey Kossacks, Shamrock American Kossacks, Subversive Agitation Team Action Network, Team DFH, DK GreenRoots, and Protest Music.

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