Welfare is being used again for political gain.
In the 1970s, Ronald Reagan used the image of “welfare queens” to assail welfare and other government poverty programs.
For years, conservatives distorted the image of the average welfare recipients as lazy cheats living lavishly off taxpayer’s money.
The rhetoric cooled down considerably after the 1996 welfare reform law when the government replaces a federal entitlement with grants to the states, while putting a time limit on how long families can get aid and requiring recipients to eventually go to work.
Today, welfare caseloads have significantly declined. There are only about 2 million families on what’s now called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF.
There haven’t been a lot of attacks on welfare since the reform. During the Republican presidential primary food stamps was the target of attack.
But a new ad by Mitt Romney’s campaign is renewing the welfare debate.
The Romney ad accuses President Barack Obama of seeking to unravel welfare reform by waiving work requirements.
The Obama administration says it does not want to waive work requirements, but instead primarily federal administrative rules, including some that tie up state caseworkers who could be serving clients.
Usually conservatives argue that states should take on government programs because they are the “laboratories of democracy.”
But when the Obama administration proposes to give the states more leeway on an aspect of welfare reform, conservatives accuse the president of trying to gut welfare reform.
PolitiFact, a fact-finding Web site, gave the Romney ad on Obama’s welfare it lowest mark for truthfulness.
“Romney’s ad says, “Under Obama plan (for welfare), you wouldn’t have to work and wouldn’t have to train for a job. They just send you welfare check,” PolitiFact said.
“That’s a drastic distortion of the planned changes to Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. By granting waivers to states, the Obama administration is seeking to make welfare-to-work efforts more successful, not end them. What’s more, the waivers would apply to individually evaluated pilot programs — HHS (Department of Health and Human Services) is not proposing a blanket, national change to welfare law.”
PolitiFact concludes its damaging assessment of the ad: “The ad’s claim is not accurate, and it inflames old resentments about able-bodied adults sitting around collecting public assistance.”
When Bill Clinton signed the welfare reform bill he declared: “After I sign my name to this bill, welfare will no longer be a political issue. The two parties cannot attack each other over it. Politicians cannot attack poor people over it …”
Clinton was wrong. Romney and other conservatives are still trying to use welfare as a political issue.