Is Disability the New Welfare?

In 1996 Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act. It has long been hailed as an example where Republicans and Democrats came together and actually got something very worthwhile done.

The Act deeply reformed welfare in America, and limited its benefits. It moved the administration to the states to a large degree and funding went to the states via “block grants.”

The most important provision of welfare reform is that it limits eligibility to 60 months of the lifetime of the recipient. After 5 years, welfare benefits stop.

This, for some however, is not generous enough. Witness what Vice President Biden’s former Chief Economic Advisor, Jared Bernstein, writes in his recent piece Your Safety Net on Block Grants.

He believes that the current welfare system is flawed and that it does not provide enough assistance, especially with some states “diverting” money. He writes:

“It is a stark warning about what happens when you turn a federal function over to states, through so-called block grants. They lose their sine qua non, their automatic ability to expand when most needed. And Republicans from Romney to Ryan have pledged to do the exact same thing with the rest of the safety net, including Medicaid and Food Stamps.”

So why not go down other routes where the Feds still have complete power such as Social Security Disability Insurance?

This appears to be happening as this article by John Merline in IBD points out.

Disability rolls have greatly expanded since eligibility requirements were loosened in 1984. But if senior policy makers in the current administration look at Clinton’s welfare reform with such disdain it is logical to think that those running other safety net programs currently are probably not very interested in curtailing program growth. Indeed some economists see such outlays as a form of “stimulus.” Why would we seek to curtail stimulus, especially stimulus that has the additional benefit of helping those in need?

Welfare reform ties the hands of government. We can’t have that! Especially during a recess… er, I mean, especially during an economic recovery.

Let me say as I have said in the past, life is hard. Tough times can hammer families. For those who truly need assistance I say please do seek it. Whether such assistance should be provided by the state is another very important question and one the co-founder of this site, Hunter Lewis, addresses in his book Are the Rich Necessary. Everyone who cares about social welfare should read the book, no matter their political disposition.

The point is helping those who fall on hard times is not a bad thing. But we must be aware always that there are some for whom limitations on any state action are wrong. When one program is curtailed another grows. Especially when it can be sold as “stimulus.”

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