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July 25, 2012

The welfare-to-work equation

Russell Sykes

The Obama administration’s offer to waive work requirements for recipients of Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) is being opposed by leading congressional Republicans, who have introduced legislation to overturn the action.  While state governments generally welcome added flexibility in administering federal programs, there is a risk the new federal policy will be used in some states to undermine the work-first principle at the heart of the successful 1996 welfare reform.

It’s worth noting in this context that New York State provides poor people with an exceptionally strong incentive to work.  For example, a single head of household with two children on welfare in New York City is eligible for TANF and Food Stamp benefits adding up to $14,952 a year.  By working full time for $8.50 an hour, the average wage for newly employed former welfare recipients, that same person can boost his or her income to more than $35,000 a year, as this chart shows.

New York’s welfare rolls have dropped by roughly two thirds in the past 15 years because the federal and state TANF partnership has made work pay.

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1 Comment »

  1. Color me confused.

    When they aren’t working, they’re eligible for $14,952 in benefits per your post. When they are working for that $8.50/hour, we’re giving them $15,159 in direct assistance (food stamps) and refundable tax credits. Isn’t the point of the 1996 welfare to work program to not only get them working, but to turn them into productive, taxpaying members of society that don’t need ANY help?

    In other words, it looks like what we’re doing not is not saving any money. It’s simply creating wage slaves. This seems to be the key point of the Presidents executive order: allow states to come up with new ways to not only get these folks working - but to get them working jobs where they might actually be able to completely support themselves, which, as I illustrated in the first paragraph, isn’t being done if we’re simply forcing them into minimum wage jobs. In fact, having them employed seems to be costing MORE overall than just having them sit on their duffs unless my math is somehow wrong - which it isn’t.

    We can do better than just getting these folks out flipping burgers and still needing benefits, and the executive order gives us the ability to explore ways to make that happen which we currently are precluded from doing.

    Comment by Darth Stateworker — July 26, 2012 @ 11:36 pm

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