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Democrats Were for Welfare Reform…Before They Were Against It

We’re disappointed Republicans watered down the work for welfare provisions of the debt ceiling bill. Only 20 hours of work a week is required, it doesn’t apply to Medicaid or many other forms of assistance, and single women with kids are exempt (which was a key feature of the historic and wildly successful 1996 reforms).

Why have Democrats become so opposed to work requirements?

From today’s WSJ:

Sen. Joe Biden strongly favored welfare reform in the 1980s and ’90s. He argued that the welfare system had “broken down” and “does nothing to help the poor find productive jobs.” But now he says work requirements would “put a million older adults at risk of losing their food assistance and going hungry.”

New York Rep. Jamaal Bowman claimed that limiting food stamps “will lead to homelessness, incarceration and death for 38 million Americans.” Georgia Sen. Raphael Warnock accused Republicans of “using poor people as pawns….”

All this should sound familiar. It’s a return of the histrionics from left-leaning Democrats in 1995-96, when Republicans proposed to reform welfare. New Jersey Sen. Frank Lautenberg predicted American cities would resemble the streets of Calcutta, with “children begging for food and 8- and 9-year-old prostitutes.” California Rep. Nancy Pelosi said that the bill would devastate children and was “a dishonor to the God that made them.” California Rep. Maxine Waters labeled the bill “shameful.”

Eventually President Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996.

By nearly every objective measure, welfare reform with work requirements was a social-policy success. A Brookings Institution study found that after 10 years of these reforms, welfare caseloads plummeted by about 60%, “a decline without precedent.” The child poverty rate fell every year for a decade, and an analysis by the Manhattan Institute found that by 2004 the poverty rate of black children hit its lowest level in at least three decades.

Even the New York Times, which in 1996 attacked the bill’s passage as “a sad day for poor children,” admitted in 2004 the law was “one of the acclaimed successes of the past decade.”

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