March 1, 2002

Bush's Welfare Reauthorization Plan Boosts Cash Aid, Weakens Work Requirements, and Broadens Government Intervention in Marriage

WASHINGTON - President Bush announced his plan for reauthorization of the 1996 Welfare Reform Act this week. It includes four proposals and his faith-based initiative, a "4-Plus-1" approach that may cost more than $19 billion. Kimble Ainslie, entitlements policy analyst at the Cato Institute, had the following comments:

"The president is promoting a $17 billion cash assistance package for the States. This money will go to the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program. While the president claims this package `holds the line' on spending, it actually is a $500 million increase from the current congressional appropriation of $16.5 billion, and nearly $4 billion more than actual spending by the States.

"Second, the president proposes to increase the `work participation' component of the welfare law to 70 percent `within five years,' up from the current 50 percent work requirement. While this seems to toughen the rules, the pre-sident's proposal also seeks to relax further the rules on `work' participation to allow welfare recipients to replace `training' and education for real work. Since there is already a major problem in the law with lackadaisical work definitions and numerous work exemptions, the policy backsliding on the workforce component of the welfare law will be worsened. The 70 percent work participation `requirement' amounts to unneeded symbolic politics.

"Third, the president wants to promote marriage among single welfare mothers. The president will press for $300 million in spending on programs to resolve marital conflicts, improve marital communications, reduce the divorce rate, and address problems of alcoholism, infidelity, and gambling that negatively affect families. The plan also would reauthorize $135 million for abstinence sex education programs. It is uncertain whether the president's pro-marriage plan will work. Similar training programs by governments for pregnancy prevention and workforce preparation have mostly failed in the States. In addition, it is not clear that low-income women ought to be forced to marry apparent statistical prospects from their low-income environment if that marriage prospect will not lead to long-term emotional and financial stability. Indeed, single mothers in some low-income cases are making rational `marketplace' decisions by not marrying poor prospects.

"Fourth, the president seeks to reinvigorate the `flexible federalism' component of the current welfare law by allowing States to take more control of the policy and administration dimensions of welfare provision. This is a good step. However, the current welfare law significantly ties the hands of the States through mandatory `State' Plans, which have crippled policy innovations.

"Finally, the president is again pushing his `faith-based initiative.' While I applaud the president's orientation to promote America's cultural beneficence, and enhancement of our civil society, it is not clear that state involvement in churches and charities is the most efficacious approach. Although, the president's idea of ridding churches and charities of excessive government regulation to work on their own is a good idea, this should not mean deregulation in order to receive government hand-outs."

The Cato Institute is a nonpartisan public policy research foundation dedicated to broadening policy debate consistent with the traditional American principles of individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace.

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