Critics say welfare plan hurts poor

“The wheels are in motion,” said publicist Daniel Maclean, describing the current state of Congressman Wally Herger’s new proposal for reauthorization on TANF, the major welfare reform program begun six years ago.

Herger, R-Marysville, chairs the House Subcommittee on Human Resources, which proposes funding on current welfare reform. His plan, which is almost identical to one recently offered by the Bush administration, will go through a full committee markup in the coming weeks before hitting the floor of the Senate.

Among many provisions, the plan calls for increasing work participation hours—from 30 to 40 hours a week—for parents on welfare as well as extending the TANF block grant at the current level of $16.5 billion for the next five years. Critics point out that this figure, because it’s not adjusted for inflation, is actually a decrease in funding.

The plan also eliminates the Illegitimacy Reduction Bonus and redirects $100 million annually (plus a matching $100 million grant) toward “family formation and healthy marriage activities"—promoting marriage, in other words.

The plan faces alternative reauthorization bills introduced by Reps. Ben Cardin, D-MD, and Patsy Mink, D-HI.

“We are very concerned about Herger’s proposal,” said Diana Spatz, executive director for Lifetime, an Oakland-based welfare activist group. “We want to know why he has basically ignored the suggestions offered by his own community” at a Lifetime-sponsored, standing-room-only meeting with him held in Chico last December.

Spatz says her group believes the Herger/Bush plan will make it even harder on welfare families to escape poverty, which she believes should be the ultimate goal of any welfare reform.

“This plan hurts families by asking them to work more, not allowing increased funding for child care [one of her group’s major goals in reform] and becoming more restrictive for education and training to help people get sustainable jobs.”

Spatz believes that, under the Republican plan, fiscal responsibility will be foisted onto individual states not prepared or unwilling to implement massive new adjustments to the work program that will eventually cost states millions of dollars.

“These are very expensive programs,” Spatz said. “Ideally, they should have an education training component to upgrade the skills of welfare workers. … Without that, this is a complete waste of taxpayers’ money.”

Herger’s people, on the other hand, believe the proposal offers increased flexibility for states to do more with education and non-work programs.

“The states have the most money they have ever had to aid funding,” said Maclean. “So far, we’ve only seen a few minor changes with the [Herger] legislation.”

The process on the Herger reauthorization plan is just beginning, and the bill will likely undergo adjustments and combinations with other bill components within the inevitable political maneuvering on Capitol Hill. Activist groups like Lifetime only hope that more effective, long-term anti-poverty measures will be included.

Lifetime plans to offer another meeting in Chico again soon.