Candidates Spar Over Welfare Reform on the Campaign Trail

Candidates Spar Over Welfare Reform on the Campaign Trail


bjbj”9″9 JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s been many years,
even decades, since poverty and, more specifically, welfare has been the center of attention on
the national political stage. But dueling claims from both presidential campaigns put
those subjects in the political arena this week. NARRATOR: Under Obama’s plan, you wouldn’t
have to work and wouldn’t have to train for a job. They just send you your welfare check.
JUDY WOODRUFF: The ad began airing this week. It refers to a decision by the Obama administration
last month to hear requests from two Republican governors, Brian Sandoval of Nevada and Gary
Herbert of Utah, for waivers or exceptions allowing state changes to federally funded
welfare-to-work programs. At a rally in Des Moines, Iowa, yesterday, Gov. Romney said
allowing those changes would be a step in the wrong direction. MITT ROMNEY (R): As a
result of putting work together with welfare, the number of people on welfare was cut in
half. Poverty was reduced. Five straight years, the level of poverty in this country came
down. It is wrong to make any change that would make America more of a nation of government
dependency. We must restore and I will restore work into welfare. (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
JUDY WOODRUFF: The Obama campaign has hit back hard at the charges. White House spokesman
Jay Carney: JAY CARNEY, White House press secretary: From a policy standpoint, let me
say that this advertisement is categorically false and it is blatantly dishonest. This
administration’s policy will strengthen the program by giving states the opportunity to
employ more effective ways to help people get off welfare and into a job. JUDY WOODRUFF:
The 1996 law replaced a federal welfare entitlement program with grants to states. The centerpiece
of the law, known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF for short, puts
a time limit on how long families can receive aid. Most notably, it required most recipients
to work or participate in job training programs. Carney argued that the waivers would force
the states to meet the law’s work requirements. JAY CARNEY: Under this policy, governors must
commit that their proposals will move at least 20 percent more people, more people from welfare
to work. BILL CLINTON, former U.S. president: Today, we are ending welfare as we know it.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Former President Bill Clinton, who signed the law, called the Romney ad misleading
and not true. In a statement released Tuesday, he said: “The Romney ad is especially disappointing
because, as governor of Massachusetts, he requested changes in the welfare reform laws
that could have eliminated time limits altogether.” The law has often been touted as a success,
as the number of people receiving welfare has declined over the years. Since the start
of the recession in 2007, requests for welfare benefits have lagged far behind requests for
food stamps and unemployment benefits, even as the percentage of Americans living in poverty
has increased. We take a close look now at the state of poverty in America and debate
the success of welfare reform with two people who have studied the issue closely. Robert
Rector is a senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He helped to craft the 1996 welfare
reform legislation. And Peter Edelman is a professor of law at Georgetown University.
He resigned from the Clinton administration in 1996 in protest of the reform plan. He
has a new book out examining how to combat poverty in the U.S. titled “So Rich, So Poor.”
Gentlemen, we thank you both for being with us. PETER EDELMAN, Georgetown University:
Thank you. JUDY WOODRUFF: So, Peter Edelman, let me start with you. This Romney campaign
ad essentially saying that what the president has done is going to make Americans more dependent
on the government. What do you make of the Romney charge. PETER EDELMAN: Absolutely untrue,
invented. This is a guidance that will help people, that is designed to make it more flexible
for the states to be able to help people get jobs. That’s what TANF is supposed to be about,
is to help people get jobs. Republican governors asked for the help. Governor Romney himself
asked for the help. So, what has happened here is, to me, it’s — what’s bigger than
a whopper? It’s a whopper. JUDY WOODRUFF: Robert Rector, how do you see what Governor
Romney is charging? ROBERT RECTOR, Heritage Foundation: Well, these are the work requirements
that were put in the TANF law in 1996. I happened to have written most of these requirements.
And these were the motor that drove that law to reduce poverty and to reduce welfare dependence
by requiring welfare recipients to work or prepare for work — or at least part of them
— as a condition for receiving aid. What the Obama administration has done is taken
these and said, they’re gone. They are out of picture. They no longer have any meaning
in law. And we’re going to replace them with something else. But you should trust us that
we’re not planning to really alter the program. Their action was completely illegal, and it
violates and wipes out the entire core of reform. JUDY WOODRUFF: Peter Edelman, as I
understand it, the White House is saying that — that is not what they have done. So, explain
why what Mr. Rector is saying isn’t correct, if you believe it’s not. PETER EDELMAN: It
is not correct. What going on here in terms of the Republican attack on these guidelines
is pure politics. It’s election-year politics. This guidance from HHS says over and over
again, repeatedly, that its aim is to improve employment outcomes — I’m reading from it
— for needy families. It’s to get more flexibility so there that there can be — make it easier
to get people to get off of TANF, instead of having work requirements in specific conditions
— situations where there’s a waiver and that it’s supervised by the federal government.
JUDY WOODRUFF: In other words, giving — as I understand, it’s giving states more flexibility
to figure out ways to get people to work. ROBERT RECTOR: It’s allowing states to be
exempted from the participation rates entirely. They say that they will waive or do away with
all of Section 407. That’s the entire work requirement in the bill. Every aspect, every
clause, every phrase is now invalid. It no longer is binding. It’s gone. PETER EDELMAN:
That’s not true. ROBERT RECTOR: It’s absolutely true. And they’re going to replace it with
something that they will design unilaterally, with no input from Congress, and that will
be something that will be far more lenient than the existing law. The left wing of the
Democratic Party has opposed this law from the beginning. Half the Democratic Party voted
against it in ’96. They attempted to repeal it in 2002. They were unable. They have now
used a bureaucratic tactic to wipe it out. JUDY WOODRUFF: You were among those in the
beginning, in fact, when you resigned from the Clinton administration, who believed that
the law went too far, Peter Edelman. But, on this particular point, why — how can you
— how do you believe, based on what you see, that the requirement to work is still a part
of… PETER EDELMAN: It doesn’t wipe out anything. It allows states to come in with very specific
proposals to get to the desired end by a different route, by doing things that promise to be
effective. And, indeed, they have to show that there will be — this is a letter that
Secretary Sebelius wrote to Congressman Camp and Sen. Hatch, that they will aim to increase
work placement by 20 percent, and the waivers would be rescinded. These are demonstration,
limited waivers. It’s not destroying anything. JUDY WOODRUFF: So, we clearly have two completely
different perspectives on… ROBERT RECTOR: Yes, except that Mr. Edelman opposed the law
to begin with, and now he’s very happy with these changes, because in fact they eliminate
the law. PETER EDELMAN: I think the administration’s trying to do something constructive here.
The fact is that welfare is almost gone in this country; 26 states, now fewer than 20
percent of children in poor families are receiving welfare. In the state of Wyoming, there are
less than 600 people in the entire state, 4 percent of poor children. What we should
be really talking about is the fact that we have blown a huge hole in the safety net for
low-income people in our country. There’s six million people who have only food stamps,
Judy, as their income. That’s what we should be talking about. JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, let’s
broaden this out and talk about the state of poverty in the country. What about the
characterization… ROBERT RECTOR: What we ought to talk about is talk about the total
means-tested welfare system. There are over 80 programs that the federal government spent
— directs to targeted aid to poor Americans, 80 programs. This year, we spent $927 billion
on those programs, not including Social Security and Medicare; 100 million individuals receive
aid. It’s $9,000 per recipient. Of those 80 programs, only three had work requirements.
Now it’s two. JUDY WOODRUFF: So, when you hear those big numbers, Peter Edelman, it
doesn’t sound like a hole has been blown in the safety net. So how do you explain what
— the statement you made? PETER EDELMAN: Well, you have to take apart all the things
that Mr. Rector has in his list. This is a story that he’s been trying to tell for a
long time. The point to understand is that the lowest-income people in this country have
that — they have increased in number. We now have 20 million people who have incomes
below half the poverty line. And that’s significantly because mothers and children have lost the
help that they used to get from cash assistance and very, very often only have food stamps.
So, he can list hundreds of billions of dollars and call it welfare. The fact is that we have
to — he’s including Head Start. He’s including all kinds of federal programs in his list.
We need to focus on the particular thing that we’re trying do in each case. We want people
working. That’s the way we’re going to end poverty. But we also have to have a decent
safety net. And at the bottom, we have blown a huge hole in that safety net. JUDY WOODRUFF:
What about that specific point? ROBERT RECTOR: Ninety percent of the spending is cash, food,
housing, medical care. It doesn’t include Social Security and Medicare. If you just
took the cash, food, and housing alone, that’s twice the amount of money needed to leave
every individual above the poverty level. Now, Peter says, oh, they’re all poor. Well,
that’s because none of this welfare spending is counted as income when we calculate poverty.
We are at a record level of spending. It’s scheduled to go up in future years. We’re
spending five times as much money if it was converted in cash as what would be needed
to eliminate all poverty in the United States, record high. Doesn’t sound like an eroding
safety net to me. PETER EDELMAN: I just — we will go family by family and see who we’re
talking about and whether they qualify for benefits. The food stamps are — we need to
count those in the way we — and we don’t technically now. But that’s $6,000. That’s
a third of the poverty line for a family that has no other income. So we will count that.
We’re still talking about 14 million or 15 million people who have incomes below half
the poverty line. And let me tell you, that is a terrible thing. JUDY WOODRUFF: And you’re
saying those people — and you’re saying those people don’t have access to what they need
in order to have the basic… PETER EDELMAN: To have the basic — first of all, we always
want to be helping people to find work, if work is available. And what the administration
has done here is in that direction. But we also need to have a decent safety net. And
adding up a whole lot of different programs and saying therefore they must all be millionaires
is just completely off the point. We need to look at what the conditions are and what
the relevant help is. JUDY WOODRUFF: You’re talking about the poorest of the poor. PETER
EDELMAN: I am. And I’m also talking about those people who are poor and — just to put
it on the table — the millions of people who are struggling with low-wage jobs. And
one of the reasons we have the spending that we have, it’s good public policy, is because
we have so many people in low-wage jobs. And, therefore, we haven’t been able to lower poverty
as much as we would want to. ROBERT RECTOR: What happened to the $927 billion? Because
that comes right out of the budget of the United States. It’s how much is spent on aid
for low income and poor people, $927 billion. Now, there are a hundred million recipients,
a third of the U.S. population. That comes to $9,000 per recipient. Now, half of that
is Medicaid. It’s medical care. But it’s still — even if you leave that out, you’re talking
about two or three times the amount of money to completely eliminate poverty in the United
States. All the statistics that Peter is giving here about how people don’t income, it’s because
of that $927 billion. Census only counts about $20 billion of it as income. The missing welfare
state in our poverty statistics is greater than the GDP of most nations in the world.
JUDY WOODRUFF: Gentlemen, we are going to have to leave it there, clearly two very different
perspectives, but we have learned something from listening to both of you. And we appreciate
it. PETER EDELMAN: Thank you. JUDY WOODRUFF: Peter Edelman and Robert Rector, thank you
both. PETER EDELMAN: Thank you. urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags State urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags
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