Closing The Welfare Revolving Door

I’m Michael Hampton, the other newest editor at Hammer of Truth, and I’m honored to be here. First, a very brief introduction.

I’ve been a (small l) libertarian for about as long as I can remember, and even so I still vote for the Libertarian Party, even though it’s in need of reform and improvements. I run my own blog, Homeland Stupidity, which is why Stephen VanDyke was surprised that I wanted to do this. My main reason for doing so is to become more active in the changes which are coming to the LP, and to help spread the message of liberty as far as I can.

With that in mind, and with all this talk about the war on terror, corruption in the Republican party, loss of civil rights, and so on, I think it’s important to remember that many Americans have other concerns which they consider far more important. And while it’s very important to address the issues which are getting headlines, it’s also important to address the issues which people consider important, and make voting decisions on, but which aren’t front-page news. I’m going to address one of those concerns today.

In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed one of the most comprehensive welfare reform packages to date. Ten years later, the number of people receiving cash assistance from the government has been “cut in half to 2 million,” according to a new Government Accountability Office report. This report looks at the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program and suggests ways to improve it.

The two big problems facing welfare recipients right now are being unable to get work that pays enough to support their families, and being able to get stable work, that doesn’t lay them off in a few months. Either way, these people generally wind up back on welfare. GAO says that the Department of Health and Human Services isn’t doing enough to address these problems. (PDF)

GAO recommends that HHS (1) identify opportunities for additional research on increasing TANF recipients’ earnings, (2) review its existing efforts to better ensure information and implementation assistance reaches the wide range of program administrators and service providers involved in welfare reform, and (3) seek out new opportunities to collaborate with Education and Labor on research and technical assistance. In response, HHS said that its efforts in these areas are sufficient and do not warrant additional attention.

That’s right, HHS says there’s nothing wrong. Despite the fact that many welfare recipients who do go to work and don’t make enough to get by — and are no longer eligible for welfare in the process — wind up getting right back on the welfare rolls.

Ultimately, welfare for the poor is something that should be handled by private organizations, as it used to be. But in the meantime, HHS should be looking at every way possible to help people get off the welfare rolls, become productive members of society, and support their families themselves — without needing further “assistance” from the government. And that will benefit all of us.

15 Comments
  1. It feels sort of funny to welcome Michael, as our blogs seems so interrelated at times. That said, welcome aboard, anyway.

  2. I think you are right, Stephen. THe blogs I read most often are yours, Michael’s Tim West’s and Tom Knapp’s. (Well, and Reason.com.) It seems like all of you are all over each other’s blogs. :) It only makes sense, though, since they are all so good.

  3. So what is the deal with the Libertarian party and social welfare? I am a democrat, but while I disagree with that party on many issues, I can’t bring myself to join the Libertarian party mostly because I can’t make heads or tails of their social welfare policy. It is clear that the party doesn’t like the current welfare system, but what is the plan to fix it? I read a lot of statements like “welfare for the poor is something that should be handled by private organizations, as it used to be”. What does that mean? That we go back to a draconian 19th century policy were the poor survived by the whim of the charitable rich? Or should we look farther back to when religious organizations helped the poor, but only if they were of the “right” religion? I really want to get on board the Libertarian train, but having grown up the child of a single mother whom fed us thanks to the social welfare system, I have difficulty buying into the “poor are just lazy and need motivation” model.

  4. If you believe that government should help the poor, you first have to ask yourself a question. Is government assistance the BEST way possible to do that? Johnson started a War on Poverty and today after trillions of dollars spent by government to erase it we find that we still have poor people.

    YOU CANT “FIX” A NATURAL PART OF BEING HUMAN.

    There have been poor people at every stage of human existence from the beginning of time, and no matter how much is spent to effect change, there will always be poor people. It’s part of the human condition.

    Now, once you wrap your mind around that, and consider that
    all of the things that have been done to level the playing field have not worked and have only made the problems worse ( compare the level of rich to poor today compared to 1900 ) you can begin to consider that we have to start trying something else.

    I say try a bit of everything and see what works. There’s no reason to experiment with new approaches.

  5. Ah, that’s what I was waiting for! I too ate the government cheese growing up, and as a kid, I really didn’t know any better. These days, I refuse to accept government welfare on moral grounds.

    I don’t really know what the LP’s stance is going to be once they’re done reworking the platform, so I can only speak for myself. In principle I will support measures which empower people to improve their lives and make enough to not only be able to get off welfare, but stay off.

    I’m talking, of course, about those people who really do want to change their lives for the better. There is a small percentage of people who don’t, and are just trying to use the system to get a free ride. I don’t see any reason why I should support them.

    And there’s an even smaller percentage who can’t. They need a different kind of help than just a disability check each month and Section 8 to warehouse them forever.

    I don’t have all the answers, but I’m working hard on it. :)

  6. Continuing…

    The best way out of poverty is to allow poor people to fully participate in the Ownership Society, by removing all restrictions in their way to market what they already can do well, and charge money for doing. Business ownership at the local level – service businesses, all of these can be started with a few hundred dollars, and partnerships can drive the costs even lower. Welfare to business ownership does happen, remember the young girl who got fined for braiding hair without a license not too far back? Thats the kind of stuff I am talking about. She should not have had to worry about that sort of thing at her level, just braiding hair for people in her nieghborhood.

    But they have to be of that bent already. The best government program in the world wont make people want to succeed. You cant force people to want to make something of themselves. It starts with the person.

  7. Well said, Tim.

    Again, we come around to the distinction between the people who do want to make a better life for themselves, and the people who don’t. But I suspect ultimately, the people who don’t are going to get what they deserve and have earned — nothing.

    It’s very difficult to start a business, even a small operation such as the girl who was braiding hair, without running into overly cumbersome government regulations at some level or another. They serve to discourage people from starting businesses (and I should know; they certainly discouraged me!) and thus it’s not an avenue the poor are going to be able to pursue nearly as easily as someone who is already familiar with the process of jumping through government’s obstacle course and laying out however much cash for licenses, permits, and what have you.

    In other words, the game is rigged. It’s time to level out the playing field and get rid of these onerous regulations.

  8. I grew up with a hard working daddy. He was self employed and provided adequately, if not lavishly. My mom saw fit to divorce him and live on assistance. I was shamed for life. I was a young mother, and the extent of my welfare was delivering the girls at a teaching hospital. Now, I am 33 and they are 17 & 14. They have never known free lunch, section 8, government cheese or food stamps. They have lived in a one bedroom apartment and now find the most comfort (together) in a single room in 3700sf. As hard as things were, they did not know poverty and shame. They saw work rewarded. Someone asked me one day- after I denounced public welfare programs- where I would be without it. I would be exactly where I am or better. You see, I refused to use the different colored lunch cards. And my mom, who would not work when I was young, is doing quite well as a small business owner today. She only had to open her eyes to opportunity. It’s sad that welfare clouds the vision.

  9. Tim,

    That’s exactly what we try to do in Birmingham. We tried to get rid of the egregious license fees for mom and pop businesses, while the (all but one member) liberal city council gives Wal-Mart eminent domain power and a $10M tax break to shut down 31 more mom and pop businesses.

    I spend a lot of time canvassing the rougher neighborhoods in B’ham, and folks there want tax and regulatory relief — and they want to start local garages, restuarants, nail salons, and the like. License fees, excessive (and disproportionate with the neighboring cities) taxes and excessive regulations combined with a liberal partnership with big business which keeps our neighborhoods blighted.

  10. What about the education for the poor? Especially those wanting to start their own business. What would be cheaper for the government? Having a program that paid for a 2-year degree at a local college? Or having private non-profit organization paying for a 2-year degree? Businesses and possibly the government could fund the non-profit organization.

    Is education important for the fututre economy of America?

    Is there a dream world where most Amercians have at least a 2-year degree in General (Liberal) education? A person could then, after obtaining a decent job, pay for their B.S. or B.A. in a specialized field.

    I am throwing these thoughts out to see what others think. Remember, supposedly Kerry had a plan for the government to pay for some college for any person wanting a college education.

  11. “Remember, supposedly Kerry had a plan for the government to pay for some college for any person wanting a college education.”

    Kerry’s plan was only for so many people, not all society.

    Education is important, very important. It’s so important that those who graduate with a BA make, on average, half a million more dollars over their lifetimes than those who don’t.

    The problem is therefore not money. Taking out loans for education is a good investment for individuals. The problem with the education system is that it’s run by idiots. Where education fails to deliver is for those kids who flunk out of college, which is much more common these days, and are left to pay the loans with a McDonalds paycheck. If we privatized our colleges, they would compete with one another to not only enroll the most kids, but to graduate the most kids and to keep their standards high while doing so. And we could lower taxes while we’re at it, to boot!

  12. It is fitting that education came up in a welfare article. The truth is that anyone truly wanting an education can get it quite easily. It takes personal sacrifice. Our society acts like they are entitled to every whim. Nobody is owed anything they haven’t worked for, but not many seem to realize it. Our poor are not living in true poverty by any stretch of the imagination. I will bet the farm that even the most “unfortunate” in our country have televisions, bicycles, branded clothing and the latest video games. It is a question of priorities. When you make a moment’s happiness more important than the long term, you set your own path of misery. How convenient it is to then blame people who have done better, and then tax the shit out of them to finance your needs. Needs that you had not thought of when “Holdiay” shopping at the local mall.

  13. I’m a little late to this conversation, but a couple
    of issues need to be pointed out.
    The first one regards occupational licensing. We should
    be pointing out that these were part of the post Civil
    War “Black Codes” and were in intended to keep the freed slaves out of the marketplace. We might point out their racist origins for starters.
    Secondly low income people, specifically inner city minorities, people on fixed incomes and part-time working mothers, all have limited access to needed transportation and public transit often does not get them were they need to go. The government’s own studies support this. Those same people that do have their own cars pay a higher percentage of their incomes for cars than the average person, often up to 40% or more.
    Libertarians should be suggesting that the urban transit marketplece be opened to other providers and that it is needed to specifically help those groups I mentioned.
    M.W.