How to Get Rid of the Poor: The Welfare Reform Bill

By Sheldon William Myrie MIT Black Students Union

At present the Republicans are working on a Welfare Reform Bill that
eliminates federal involvement in welfare programs. This means that
money allocated for specific programs such as AFDC, Food Stamps, and
Medicaid, will now be turned into a lump-sum block grant.  However the
Federal allocation specifications that the states have at present,
accounting for federal aid that goes to AFDC and Food Stamps, will not
exist under the new plan. This action has its pros and cons.
	A purported pro is that there will be a decrease in the cost
of monitoring the states to make sure that the money is allocated
correctly. The cost of monitoring the state agencies is built into the
welfare allocation package, which means that part of the $22 billion
package is not even given to those on welfare. According to 1992
statistics, the median allocation per month for a family on AFDC was
$388. There are 4.1 million families on AFDC. If we multiply the
allocation by the number of families by 12 months we get a total of
$19.1 billion. Therefore, the other $3 billion must go to
administrative and operating costs, which includes monitoring. Cutting
down on administrative monitoring could save the Federal Government
approximately $3 billion per year.
	The con in this case is that the Federal government cannot
ensure the American people that the grant is being used properly in
individual states. Being no expert on the political economy of the
welfare state, I can see that each governmental entity has one
fundamental economic driving force. The federal government is driven
by the military-industrial complex and the state governments are
driven by the corporate-financial market. It is easier to pressure the
government to decrease military spending and take care of their
domestic responsibility, but it is difficult to tell the state to
decrease business investment. For example, the U.S. government plans
to increase the military budget for F-22 tactical fighters by $72
Billion. We can point at that and say that money can be used for
something better than F-22's. That money can be put into better public
education in underprivileged public schools. It is clear how and where
the money is being spent.
	Corporate investment on the other hand is more of a nebulus
issue. The states tend to focus more on making their financial
districts more "ritzy" and tend to encourage businesses to enter their
financial districts through tax incentives. In addition, the builders
and renovators that get these contracts are not the ones that attract
the unemployed population, minorities, or the lower-class population.
This is the reason why New York's minority contractors have difficulty
finding work for their employees. The money that could be used to
better the inner-city is used to better the already rich institutions;
the stark contrast between the Upper East Side of Manhattan and
Spanish Harlem, which is about two blocks west from the outskirts, is
a common example. The states can give "welfare" to businesses and hide
behind the glamour of corporate modernization in their central cities.
The states are able to get away with this also because the citizens of
these states do not usually realize their state and local governments
are using tax monies to bring in business. Also, since we are a
consumer society, we tend to focus on where we can spend our money and
look rich-the new mall that opens up in the garment districts-rather
than where we can invest our money in more socially beneficial ways,
such as in public schools. We must not be supporters of the glamour of
the city unless we understand at whose expense that glamour is
rendered. Thus, it can be more difficult to know whether the states
are going to use tax monies to benefit the poor or the rich, than it
can be to know whether the nation is using the money to benefit the
poor or the rich.
	The Republicans' ideology is that they should not and will not
support a system that creates dependency. The current plan that was
signed by the House of Representatives Ways and Means Subcommittee
intends to save $23 billion over five years. If we subtract the amount
of money that the federal government would save from giving block
grants to the states over a five year period, which balances out to be
$15 billion, then the remaining $8 billion must come from cutting the
actual welfare allocation. The way the Republicans plan to cut that $8
billion over a five year period is by barring cash benefits to unwed
mothers under 18, limiting welfare eligibility to a consecutive five
years, and setting up work requirements.
	If the Republican perception is true that the cuts can prevent
teen pregnancy, decrease dependency, and promote labor, simultaneously
taking the burden off the states to comply with federal regulation,
which costs the states more money, then one can look at this as
another pro. There is empirical study that shows a correlation between
teen pregnancy, crime, etc. and welfare dependency. However to take
that correlation and present it as a case of causality is wrong. The
perpetuation of a notion that people are on welfare because they
aren't intelligent enough not to have babies at a young age, to stay
in school, etc. stems from ideology and not proof. Charles Murray
attempts to display empirical proof for this argument in his book The
Bell Curve. Among the many problems with the book are that the results
from his exploration illustrate correlation, not causality. In
addition to that, many political scientists say that the empirical
data he has for his correlation analysis is not fully descriptive data
and less than statistically significant. It is fair to assume that
even if the Republican Contract did not base its tenets on The Bell
Curve, that book certainly has been used to legitimize the Republican
agenda.


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