- In 1996, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity
Reconciliation ("welfare reform") Act (PRWORA) passed. Until
then, needy households got welfare payments (since 1935) through Aid to
Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), a program protecting states by
sharing costs of increased caseloads during hard times.
- Thereafter, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
set five year time limits, allocating fixed block grants to states to administer
at their own discretion, putting needy people at risk during economic downturns
when little or no additional federal funding is forthcoming.
- TANF also requires recipients to work or be trained to
qualify, even during hard times like now when skilled workers can't find
jobs, let alone single mothers with young children needing them as caregivers
in their most formative years.
- During today's dire economic times, budget strapped states
are implementing harsh cuts, harming vulnerable residents most, including
families with children on TANF.
- On May 19, a new Liz Schott/LaDonna Pavetti Center on
Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP) study highlights the problem, titled
"Many States Cutting TANF Benefits Harshly Despite High Unemployment
and Unprecedented Need."
- Deep cuts will affect 700,000 poor families, including
1.3 million children, about one-third of all households on TANF. Moreover,
those numbers will rise, perhaps precipitously, as states keep slashing
social benefits, hitting vulnerable residents hardest.
- Already they're cutting cash payments or ending them
entirely, including for "many families with physical or mental health
issues or other challenges." As a result, poor ones are getting poorer.
In addition, work-related aid, including child care, is being reduced,
making it harder for working parents to retain jobs, needing someone home
looking after their children.
- TANF cuts so far made include:
- -- monthly cash benefit cuts in California, Washington,
South Carolina, New Mexico, and the District of Columbia; for example,
South Carolina pays the equivalent of 14% of poverty wages for a family
of three, severely impacting poor families;
- -- time limits for receiving benefits have been reduced;
for example, California and Arizona (among others) cut theirs, and some
states may limit payments to 18 months, down from the federally enacted
five year maximum; and
- -- TANF-funded supplementary aid is being cut; for example,
Michigan is slashing its (partly TANF funded) Earned Income Tax Credit
by two-thirds; in addition, other states weakened "make-work-pay"
policies by reducing or eliminating them altogether.
- Overall, "(s)tates are terminating or reducing benefits
for some of the most vulnerable families, most of whom have very poor labor
- At issue is less federal aid, leaving them no choice
but to apportion lower amounts gotten, on the way perhaps to nothing as
Capitol Hill debates ways to end social benefits entirely to provide more
funds for bankers, war profiteers and other corporate favorites.
- In fact, Democrats and Republicans are hammering vulnerable
Americans, including those already at or below the poverty line, showing
no concern for growing millions in need.
- For example, in 1994-1995, AFDC served 75 out of 100
impoverished families with children. In 2008-2009, only 28 of every 100
got aid, the ratio varying by state. Seven, in fact, help 10 or less families
out of 100 impoverished ones when all of them most need it.
- In 1996, however, when TANF was established, assurances
were given for a TANF Contingency Fund during hard times. That was then.
This is now after resources were exhausted in December 2010, and 2011 allocations
are too meager to matter. The 2009 Recovery Act included TANF Emergency
Fund aid, not renewed after September 2010.
- Moreover, Congress "level-funded" TANF from
inception, providing no adjustments for inflation or other factors, including
extra help during hard times.
- As a result, budget-strapped states have cut back severely,
reducing matching funds and using federal grants for other purposes.
- Nationwide in July 2010, TANF benefits for a family of
three averaged less than half the poverty line, and below 30% in over half
the states. The median amount paid was $429, 28% of poverty wages. Compared
to 1996, TANF benefits declined by over 20% in inflation adjusted dollars.
- In 2011, they dropped more given skyrocketing food, energy
and other costs, as well as several states implementing more cuts. Effective
February 1, Washington reduced benefits by 15% a month, from $562 to $478.
South Carolina cut them 20%, from $270 to $216. New Mexico slashed 15%,
from $447 to $380.
- Effective July 1, California dropped 8%, from $694 to
$638 and will impose additional cuts up to 15% for "child-only"
cases, those with "no adult in the assistance unit" that, up
to now, got aid for 60 months or longer.
- Effective April 1, The District of Columbia slashed 20%
for families getting aid for 60 months or longer, from $428 to $342. In
addition, Mayor Vincent Gray proposed more cuts, up to 40% (including the
April one) by October as well as total elimination of benefits by 2013.
- Watch for states across the country to propose similar
measures as Washington heads for ending social benefits altogether, what
Democrats and Republicans plan but won't explain.
- A Final Comment
- On May 28, New York Times writer Robert Pear headlined,
"Administration Opposes Challenges to Medicaid Cuts," saying:
- On May 26, "(i)n a friend-of-the court brief (to)
the Supreme Court, the Justice Department said that no federal law allowed
private individuals to sue states to enforce" mandated Medicaid rates,
"sufficient to enlist enough providers" to assure recipients
access care "to the same extent as the general population in an area."
- Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal's brief said suits
"would not be compatible" with the ability of Health and Human
Services officials to assure states comply, despite low payment rates in
many areas preventing recipients from accessing care. Nonetheless, he said
Medicaid equal access provisions are "broad and nonspecific."
Moreover, federal health officials, he argued, are more qualified than
judges to decide policy objectives, including cutting costs.
- At issue before the Court is Douglas v. Independent Living
Center of Southern California (January 2011). Legislators approved payment
cuts to providers. They sued in federal court, winning in the US Court
of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit on grounds they conflict with Medicaid
law, arguing if cutbacks are approved, mandated care can't be provided.
The Supreme Court agreed to hear multiple appeals together on the same
- Although Medicaid law doesn't explicitly allow lawsuits,
Ninth Circuit judges said beneficiaries and providers could sue under the
Constitution's Supremacy Clause (Article VI, Clause 2), establishing all
its provisions, US treaties, and federal statutes "the supreme law
of the land."
- As a result, payment reductions violate federal Medicaid
law, threatening access to vital healthcare for poor recipients needing
federal/state aid to provide it.
- California appealed to the Supreme Court, Obama's Justice
Department arguing for denial of what federal law mandates. As a result,
consumer advocates are outraged. So is Washington and Lee Professor Timothy
- "I find it appalling that the solicitor general
in a Democratic administration would assert in a Supreme Court brief that
businesses can challenge state regulations under the supremacy clause,
but that poor recipients of Medicaid cannot challenge state violations
of federal law."
- In a separate friend-of-the court brief, Michigan and
30 other states argued that "(a)llowing 'supremacy clause lawsuits'
to enforce federal Medicaid laws will be a financial catastrophe for"
all of them.
- Jointly funded, states manage Medicaid for qualified
low-income families and children, pregnant women, the elderly, blind and
disabled. In total, about 60 million Americans receive it, including one
in three children, four in 10 pregnant women, and 70% of nursing home residents.
- Since taking office, Obama waged war on working households
and America's poor, proposing fiscal austerity for needy millions, including
vital healthcare only government can provide them.
- Now he's battling them in court to strip more than Congress
already denied besides new legislation perhaps to end all social benefits,
phased out incrementally by repeated cuts. Obama calls it "shared
sacrifice." Working Americans call it cruel, heartless, unfair, and
outrageous, especially from a Democrat promising change.
- Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago and can be reached at
email@example.com. Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com
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