UNDERNEWS

Undernews is the online report of the Progressive Review, edited by Sam Smith, who has covered Washington during all or part of one quarter of America's presidencies and edited alternative journals since 1964. The Review has been on the web since 1995. See main page for full contents

February 2, 2009

CLINTON'S WELFARE PROGRAM BOMBING IN RECESSION

NY Times - Despite soaring unemployment and the worst economic crisis in decades, 18 states cut their welfare rolls last year, and nationally the number of people receiving cash assistance remained at or near the lowest in more than 40 years.

The trends, based on an analysis of new state data collected by The New York Times, raise questions about how well a revamped welfare system with great state discretion is responding to growing hardships. . .

The deepening recession offers a fresh challenge to the program, which was passed by a Republican Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996 amid bitter protest and became one of the most closely watched social experiments in modern memory.

The program, which mostly serves single mothers, ended a 60-year-old entitlement to cash aid, replacing it with time limits and work requirements, and giving states latitude to discourage people from joining the welfare rolls. While it was widely praised in the boom years that followed, skeptics warned it would fail the needy when times turned tough. . .

Even some of the program's staunchest defenders are alarmed. "There is ample reason to be concerned here," said Ron Haskins, a former Republican Congressional aide who helped write the 1996 law overhauling the welfare system. "The overall structure is not working the way it was designed to work. We would expect, just on the face it, that when a deep recession happens, people could go back on welfare.". . .

Born from Mr. Clinton's pledge to "end welfare as we know it," the new program brought furious protests from people who predicted the poor would suffer. Then millions of people quickly left the rolls, employment rates rose and child poverty plunged.

But the economy of the late 1990s was unusually strong, and even then critics warned that officials placed too much stress on caseload reduction.

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