Well-being as we knew it


Senator Joe Manchin has all eyes on him. Again. This time it is because he is questioning his party’s line on the importance of work for people on welfare.

He recently revealed his reservations about the Biden tax credit, which turned into unconditional cash grants: “There is no requirement to work. There is no education requirement for better skills. children, that the people make an effort?

Manchin is right to be concerned about the current legislation. Work matters, especially for the most vulnerable among us.

Twenty-five years ago Democrats and Republicans agreed with him. In 1996, everyone agreed that our national social protection system kept people in poverty for the simple reason that it discouraged work. Even then-Sen. Joe Biden said: “Work should be the premise of our welfare system.”

The reality of unemployment benefits was striking. Before 1996, after decades of unconditional payments, nearly 9 in 10 families on social assistance were unemployed. Most were stuck in long-term poverty, dependent on meager benefits. About 90 percent of these families were headed by a single mother, and one in seven children survived on the benefits.

Congress tackled this problem, with the help of then-President Bill Clinton, who pledged to “end welfare as we know it.” Congress came together to pass one of the most important and successful social reforms in American history: bipartisan welfare reform.

The resulting welfare reform limited recipients to five years of assistance, while requiring states to put them to work between 20 and 30 hours per week, depending on the age of the children.

Some have said that poverty will increase, but the opposite has happened.

The most significant result: Child poverty, which had been static for decades, fell sharply by almost 8% over the next decade.

There is no denying that the shift from social assistance to work has financial benefits for families.

Welfare reform has been successful, but this policy could be almost permanently overturned by President Biden and the Democrats in Congress.

This is the reality of the new “tax credit” for children (in effect, social allowances for people paid by the IRS) included in the US bailout, adopted by Congress and signed by the president in March. . This child credit, which previously required work, turned into a child allowance for a year. If Congress passes the House’s $ 3.5 trillion reconciliation bill, the child allowance will become essentially permanent.

If the Biden Child Tax Credit is made permanent, the pre-welfare reform system will be resurrected. The transformed child tax credit sends a monthly check to parents whether they are working or not. It pays about 85 percent of what Social Assistance paid in 1995, but it also expands income eligibility, so millions more families receive it.

Manchin is right to worry about irrevocably disconnecting well-being from work. Too many on the left have forgotten what happens when families don’t work, despite decades of evidence proving how dangerous that view is. We should not go back to welfare as we knew it.


Leslie Ford is Visiting Fellow in Home Policy Studies at the Heritage Foundation.

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