Tag Archives: TANF

Peter the Citizen and “Less Appealing” Indiana

On Wednesday, I shared portions of an analysis of TANF–welfare after “reform”–from Peter the Citizen, a conservative policy analyst who has deep experience with social welfare policies.

Among the many papers he has written on the subject is one I found particularly interesting, because it references poverty and welfare policy in my home state of Indiana–and because Peter’s analysis is consistent with my own understanding of conditions in the Hoosier state.

In this particular paper, Peter was responding to an article attributing the “success” of welfare reform to the fact that such reforms have made welfare “less appealing.” (I suspect that many recipients would be shocked to discover they were accepting help because they found it “appealing.”) His rejoinder is worth reproducing at some length.

TANF is best viewed on a state-by- state basis and digging deeper suggests that there are limits to Winship’s argument about making welfare “less appealing.” Some states have tried to focus on real “welfare reform” (to the extent they can given the limitations of TANF’s block grant structure and dysfunctional federal requirements), while others use it primarily as a slush fund and have adopted very harsh policies to push families off the welfare rolls. Using a simplistic pre-post approach, one can easily compare states over time based on the harshness of their policies. (Note: This is not the evaluation approach I prefer, but it seems to resonate with conservatives.)

Robert Doar, now at the American Enterprise Institute, says he ran a “model” TANF program in New York – both at the state level and in New York City. (Doar’s bio states: “Before joining the Bloomberg administration, he was commissioner of social services for the state of New York, where he helped to make the state a model for the implementation of welfare reform.”) Doar is proud of New York City’s track record in reducing poverty:

In America’s biggest cities, more and more Americans are now living in poverty. From 2000 to 2013, the poverty rate in America’s 20 largest cities grew by 36 percent, to an average of 22.7 percent. Nationally, the poverty rate has risen too, from 11.3 percent in 2000 to 14.8 percent in 2014.

But there’s one stand-out exception to this phenomenon: New York City.

Over the last decade, New York City’s poverty rate has defied national trends by declining. While New York once suffered one of the highest poverty rates among the country’s large cities, today it boasts one of the lowest…

Indeed, Doar presents data to show that between 2000 and 2013, the percent change in poverty in New York City was minus 0.9 percent – the lowest in the nation among major cities, followed by Los Angeles and San Diego (plus 3.6 and plus 7.5 percent, respectively). At the opposite end of the spectrum, with the largest increases, were Indianapolis (81.5 percent), Charlotte (67 percent), and Detroit (57.9 percent).

Notably, both New York and California (the states with the top three cities) have much more appealing TANF programs than Indiana, North Carolina, and Michigan (the states with the bottom three cities) and they have become relatively more appealing over time. New York and California didn’t eliminate the entitlement (an important component of “welfare reform” for conservatives), they don’t impose full family sanctions or enforce the federal 5-year time limit (California removes the adult’s needs after 48 months but children continue to receive benefits; New York simply continues assistance with state funds.) Both states have among the most generous benefits, paying over $700 a month for a family of three. In contrast, the states with the cities in the bottom three have lower benefits ($272 to $492 a month for a family of three), do impose full-family sanctions and do enforce the federal 5-year limit and two have shorter time limits (24 months in Indiana – for adults – and 48 months in Michigan – for the entire family).

While Indiana, North Carolina and Michigan were “less appealing” in 1996 (and 2000) than both California and New York, they have become much, much less appealing over time. For example, between 1996 and 2014, the TANF-to-poverty ratio (the ratio of families receiving cash assistance per 100 poor families with children) fell from 101 to 65 in California and from 79 to 40 in New York. The declines were much larger in Indiana (61 to 8), North Carolina (74 to 8), and Michigan (88 to 18).15 The maximum benefit for a family of three fell 23 percent in real terms in California and 10 percent in New York; compare that to Indiana (-34 percent), North Carolina (-34 percent), and Michigan (-30 percent). TANF is failing as a safety net everywhere, but much more so in some states than others.

I’ve written before about the United Way of Indiana’s description of ALICE families (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) and the huge gap between what those families need simply in order to survive and the public and private resources available to them.

There’s a lot of faux concern about “welfare dependency” expressed by people who are quite comfortable themselves. What those people worry about is “takers” getting too comfortable with those appealing “handouts”.

Peter the Citizen uses the term properly, to describe people who depend upon social welfare programs in order to survive.

There are many things policymakers could do to decrease that real-world dependency: raise the minimum wage, reinstitute Reagan-era tax brackets, eliminate the ACA in favor of “Medicare for All”…and jettison a self-satisfied ideology that equates poverty with a lack of moral fiber and “middle-class values.”

 

 

Labels Aren’t Analyses

Not long ago, in response to one of my periodic posts decrying policies that ignore evidence in favor of ideology, I got an email from Peter Germanis, who writes as “Peter the Citizen” and  takes the unusual approach of evaluating policies on the basis of whether they actually work, rather than whether they are labeled conservative or liberal.

Peter attached an exchange from Poverty and Public Policy that reproduced three of his articles on poverty and welfare.

Peter’s background certainly entitles him to his chosen label, which is conservative: between 1986 and 1996, he helped President Reagan develop and implement his welfare reform policies, and he has worked with the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute, both of which are  very conservative advocacy and research organizations.

Here are some of the things Peter says about TANF, the much-ballyhooed “bipartisan welfare reform” that is considered a great success by Paul Ryan and others intent upon reducing expenditures on social welfare.

  • The suggestion that TANF helps people out of poverty is–by any objective analysis–wrong.
  • TANF is not welfare reform; it is welfare to states, not the needy.
  • TANF is really revenue sharing; states use a considerable share of TANF funds to supplant state expenditures.

Peter points to Texas as an example of how TANF actually works. He notes that in 2014, for every 100 poor families with children, only five received TANF cash assistance, and the state invests little of its TANF block grant to provide education, training or work supports for the working poor. In fiscal year 2014, Texas used just 20% of its TANF funds to provide what Peter designates as “core welfare reform activities”–basic assistance, work activities and child care.”

In the wake of the election, Paul Ryan and the House Republicans plan to apply TANF’s “success” to other social welfare programs, and they have issued a proposal along those lines titled “A Better Way.” As Peter writes,

The Task Force’s Report for reforming the safety net is a seriously flawed document–it would not solve problems, it would add to them…As described above TANF is not “welfare reform”; it is not a “success” it is Truly a National Failure (TANF). The fact that conservatives do not understand this suggests that they do not have “A Better Way”–they have “The Wrong Way.”

Conservatives like Peter the Citizen represent a once-vibrant and now-dwindling strand of intellectually honest conservatism, and the recognition that the labels we employ–liberal, conservative, libertarian, socialist–are frequently short-hand for categorizing and discarding (or embracing) policies without bothering to evaluate them. More of his work can be accessed at this link.

Perhaps I am cynical, but I think there is one other difference between the bygone conservatism of people like Peter and what passes for conservatism today. The conservatives who used to be engaged with poverty policy genuinely wanted to help poor people. They might disagree with liberals about the best way to go about it, but the shared goal was to enable impoverished Americans to become self-sufficient. Today’s “conservatives” aren’t simply uninterested in honest analysis; they are uninterested in actually helping poor people. Their idea of “success” is spending less money on social welfare so that they can reduce taxes on the wealthy.

Because after all, poor people don’t vote, don’t contribute and don’t employ lobbyists.

 

 

And You Thought HJR 3 Was Dumb….

Am I the only resident of the Hoosier state who cannot comprehend the priorities and prejudices–let alone the analytical abilities–of Indiana lawmakers?

It’s bad enough that the most high-profile battle of this session–HJR 3–has given the rest of the country the impression that Hoosiers are 19th Century yahoos determined to buck the headwinds of change. What’s worse is that all the high-profile jockeying to keep GLBT folks in second-class citizenship status has sucked the wind out of everything else going on–obscuring all the other stupid decisions being made at the Statehouse.

One example: HB 1351 which requires the drug testing of TANF recipients. This measure, which will cost taxpayers nearly 1.5 million in fiscal 2016-17 alone — is moving steadily through the General Assembly, despite the fact that in states that have passed such laws , like Florida, courts have held it unconstitutional–and despite the fact that very few abusers were found. (If I had to guess, I’d bet the percentage of drug abusers in the General Assembly is substantially higher than the percentage on welfare. Drugs cost money, and TANF pays $288 per month for a family of three. You try living and buying drugs on that.)

As of March 2013, there were just 26,364 individual Hoosiers receiving TANF.  Of that number, 23,128 were children. So Indiana is proposing to spend a million and a half dollars to test three thousand adults for drug abuse.

Dumb or not, this costly measure of dubious constitutionality and demonstrated ineffectiveness is speeding merrily through the process.  Meanwhile, SB 413, a bill that  would encourage TANF families to accumulate the assets they need to transition off of public assistance [and save taxpayer money], is not expected to go anywhere–despite the fact that other states that have implemented that measure have saved money and helped poor people move toward self-sufficiency.

It’s hard to escape the suspicion that our legislators not only don’t want to help poor folks–they want to punish them for being poor. One reason there are so few adults receiving TANF is that we have already made the process so difficult and demeaning that only 2.9% of impoverished Hoosiers participate.

I guess GLBT folks aren’t the only people Indiana doesn’t want.

 

 

Sauce for the Goose

Yesterday’s post about the effort to expose the “reasoning” behind Senate Bill 371 got me thinking about equal treatment and its notable absence from other brilliant proposals currently wending their way through Indiana’s legislative process. (As you may recall, SB 371 “protects” women who want prescriptions for abortion pills, and the proposed amendment would similarly have “protected” men wanting pills for erectile dysfunction.)

For example, what would a more balanced approach mean for the bill requiring drug testing of welfare recipients?

So far, the arguments against that measure have been boring–the typical logical, evidence-based objections that routinely fail to persuade our lawmakers. The Indiana Coalition for Human Services, for example, has pointed out that Florida implemented such a program and found it to be ineffective and costly (only 2% tested positive). Others have noted that the available tests are not well-suited for a “pass/fail” situation. Legislative Services estimates the first-year cost to be 1.2 million, much more than is likely to be saved. Etcetera.

Wrong arguments! Logic has rarely prevailed at the Statehouse, and cost-effectiveness is not a concept embraced by our elected culture and class warriors.

So I say, pile on! Not only should TANF recipients be tested, so should all the other welfare moochers who are enriching themselves at taxpayers’ expense. Let’s start with corporate welfare, with the beneficiaries of crony capitalism–the coal-gasification boondoggle,the business enterprises that have persuaded lawmakers to grant them favorable tax treatment, the owners of sports teams we subsidize, and those like ACS that are making big bucks providing services like parking meters–taking a major chunk of the money that the city would otherwise have available for public purposes.

Perhaps we could require drug testing as a condition of getting an education voucher. And let’s not forget all the elected officials–10,400 of them, thanks to Indiana’s archaic township system–who are suckling at the public you-know-what. In fact, we should test everyone paid with tax dollars–teachers, police officers, firefighters, clerks in the City-County Building…Surely, those of us whose tax dollars pay their salaries are entitled to know whether our money is going to substance abusers.

Proponents of drug testing for welfare recipients justify that proposal by pointing to the expenditure of tax dollars. By that logic, we should test everyone we are supporting or enriching with public funds.

What’s sauce for the goose ought to be sauce for the gander.