Heritage Foundation Study Praises Tough Welfare Policies: Do You?

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Mon, 10 May 1999 21:21:52 -0700 (PDT)

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In the long term, will Welfare Reform benefit poor and homeless people?

Why or why not?

Whose interests are advanced or impeded by Heritage Foundation's claims
about welfare reform in their study cited below?

Do homeless and ex-homeless people need our own think-tanks to research the
impacts of public and corporate policy among our low-income peers?

FWD  San Francisco Chronicle - May 10, 1999


     Heritage Foundation says economy
     doesn't explain decline in rolls

Ever since the welfare rolls began to shrink
dramatically several years ago, researchers have argued over the reason: Was
it primarily the booming economy, welfare reform legislation or both?

A new study by the conservative Heritage Foundation concludes that the
sharp decline in the number of families on the rolls is due almost entirely
to tough state policies enacted as part of national welfare reform
legislation -- and not the economic good times and plummeting unemployment

Many of the states with the highest unemployment rates have had the
greatest success in trimming their welfare rolls, while other states with
low unemployment rates have relatively large welfare rolls.

``The relative vigor of state economies, as measured by unemployment
rates, has no statistically significant effect on caseload decline,'' said
Robert Rector, a senior policy analyst for welfare reform at the foundation.
Rather, tough action by states in cutting off welfare checks for violating
the rules and requiring recipients to go to work immediately were much more
important factors, he said.

Rector's research is the latest entry into the long-running and
frequently partisan debate over why the number of welfare recipients has
dropped by 37 percent in three years.

In August 1996, President Clinton signed legislation turning welfare over
to the states, allowing them to set their own rules for public assistance,
requiring recipients to go to work and limiting aid for individuals to a
lifetime total of five years.

Rector says the state welfare policies enacted subsequently were
primarily responsible for the decline -- particularly the stringent
``sanctions'' or financial punishments that many states have instituted
against welfare recipients who fail to follow the rules.

States with the toughest policies, disqualifying recipients after their
first infraction of rules, experienced a 41.8 percent reduction in their
caseload during the past three years.

States that eliminate checks after imposing a series of progressively
more severe sanctions reported a a 28.3 percent reduction, while states that
remove only part of the welfare check for noncompliance have cut their
caseloads by 17.3 percent, Rector found.

The number of families receiving welfare dropped from 4.73 million in
June 1995 to 2.98 million in June 1998, according to Rector's study.

Critics argued that Rector's findings grossly understated the effects of
the economy, though few doubt that the tougher state policies are having a
profound effect.

Douglas Besharov, resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute,
said it is ``hard to deny that the economy has helped big time,'' but
acknowledged that without ``get-tough'' welfare policies ``the economy would
have accomplished only a fraction of the reduction.''

LaDonna Pavetti, senior researcher at Mathematica Policy Research,
said, ``The policies added a push that wasn't there before.''

``If we had all the policies but not the jobs, we would have some
decline, but not as steep a decline,'' she said.

Representative Nancy Johnson, R-Conn., chairman of the House Ways and
Means subcommittee that oversees welfare policy, said that although
sanctions have been an important tool for states to use, two other factors
are possibly more significant.

First, ``there is more social service money available than at any time in
history,'' she said. Second, ``we have put in place through bipartisan
action a new system of public support for working people that has made work

**In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. section 107, this material is
distributed without charge or profit to those who have expressed a prior
interest in receiving this type of information for non-profit research and
educational purposes only.**

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