Like Countable?

Install the App
TRY NOW

On This Date: Clinton's Bipartisan Welfare Reform Became Law

by Countable | Updated on 8.22.18

On August 22, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act into law, reforming America’s welfare system through a bipartisan compromise with a Republican-controlled Congress. Among the legislation’s main reforms were a new requirement that welfare recipients work to continue receiving benefits and a five-year cap for families receiving federal welfare dollars.

The deal accomplished bipartisan goals. It fulfilled Clinton’s campaign pledge Clinton to “end welfare as we have come to know it,” while also enacting a key portion of the Republican party’s Contract With America. But the legislation remains controversial to this day. Proponents point to decreased welfare enrollment and higher employment rates as signs of its success, while detractors say it hasn’t done enough to help those still in poverty.

Why was reform needed?

Beginning in 1935, the primary welfare program in the U.S. was known as the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. By 1969, the number of families enrolled grew from 162,000 to 1,875,000. This led to concerns that people who were capable of working might choose not to because they feared losing their benefits, or that “welfare queens” might exploit the system. The value of benefits paid out to families through AFDC was also declining, as the amount of money paid to a family of three dropped by 47 percent between 1970 and 1996 after adjusting for inflation.

Due to those problems with the existing welfare system, a political consensus that something needed to be done had emerged in the 1990s—though the parties were divided as ever on the specifics. Democrats lost control of both chambers in Congress in the 1994 midterm elections to Republicans touting their “Contract With America” under the guidance of new House Speaker Newt Gingrich, meaning that Clinton would have to forge a bipartisan compromise to fulfill his campaign promise.

Republicans used their newfound majority to pass two welfare reform packages, which were promptly vetoed by President Clinton when they arrived on his desk. But, given his campaign pledge and the negative political implications of vetoing a third welfare reform bill going into a presidential election, Clinton worked with Gingrich and other Republicans to craft a compromise bill that was eventually introduced by then-Rep. John Kasich (R-OH). The bill finally passed both the House and Senate with strong bipartisan support, and Clinton praised the legislation at the ceremony where he signed it into law:

“It gives us a chance we haven’t had before to break the cycle of dependency that has existed for millions and millions of our fellow citizens, exiling them from the world of work. It gives structure, meaning and dignity to most of our lives.”

What did it do?

With the enactment of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, welfare was no longer an entitlement program, meaning that the poor had to apply and be approved to receive benefits—they weren’t just given out. It eliminated the old AFDC system and replaced it with a new welfare program known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). TANF was designed to provide cash benefits to needy families through block grants for states to use in creating their own welfare programs, which may require recipients to meet additional criteria to get their benefits.

Welfare recipients were required to begin working after they’d received benefits for two years, and a lifetime limit of five years of federal benefits was put in place. This was a significant departure from the previous welfare system which didn’t impose any work requirement on recipients. Under current law, half of a state’s TANF enrollees must be in compliance with federal work requirements.

Additionally, the legislation tightened up other aspects of the welfare system. It increased state enforcement of child support payments in order to give more single-parent households a chance to get off of welfare. It also prevented immigrants to the U.S. from receiving federal welfare benefits until they have been in the country for five years—although states are able to use their own welfare funds to cover recent immigrants.

What impact has it had?

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act succeeded in reducing the number of families receiving welfare from over 12 million in 1996 to about 3 million in 2015. As Clinton noted in a 2006 op-ed defending welfare reform a decade after he signed it into law, millions of former welfare recipients got jobs, and child support collections doubled following the bill’s enactment.

That said, welfare reform’s detractors point to poverty rates that haven’t fallen at the same rate as welfare enrollments. In 1996, the poverty rate was at about 14 percent and by 2015, the rate was essentially unchanged. Critics say this is because welfare reform moved people who had been receiving benefits into low-paying jobs that ultimately didn’t provide enough income to lift them completely out of poverty.

The law’s controversy has carried over into recent political debates as well. In July 2012, a decision by the Obama administration’s Dept. of Health and Human Services (HHS) allowed states to apply for a waiver to TANF’s work requirements if they could show a credible plan to increase the employment of welfare recipients by 20 percent. Several states requested waivers to reduce the volume of paperwork and reporting they were required to do. HHS’ decision drew the ire of Obama’s rival for the presidency, Mitt Romney, who accused the president of trying to gut welfare reform, a claim later given a ruling of “Pants on Fire!” by Politifact.

Welfare reform also became a point of contention between Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. Sanders claimed that the compromise between President Clinton and Republicans was an attempt to “go after some of the weakest and most vulnerable people in this country.” He also alleged that those who supported welfare reform — namely the Clintons — were guilty of “scapegoating people who were helpless.” Bill Clinton responded by saying that “there’s no question that it did far more good than harm,” while also conceding that changes to the law are needed to help the poorest Americans.

— Eric Revell

(Photo Credit: Social Security Administration / Public Domain)

Countable

Written by Countable

Leave a comment
(23)
  • Barbara
    Voted Angry
    08/23/2018
    ···

    Welfare reform is just a political agenda for those who want to make those who are already disenfranchised a scape goat for the problems that our leaders refuse to address, homelessness,mental health care,aging,populations,aging,infastuctue, realistic student loan payment,fair wages, the investment in human potential. Now we have a nation being distracted by a Administration who are obsessed keeping a person who holds the highest office in the land in place,a person who has betrayed all values of a decent society,A person who does not Respect any law.A person who supports,rogue leaders.A person who contiuee to attack the press, and all who who would dare to question him about anything.

    Like (11)
    Follow
    Share
  • David
    08/23/2018
    ···

    Are you free or are you being enslaved to Gov’t handouts? Our society has an addition to “FREE”. Unfortunately, the Dems use this to their full advantage. Free healthcare, free college, free housing, free food are the promise of the Left. Like a snared animal, once a voter is trapped in this ideology, its hard to get out. The Dems know, once they trap 50% of the voters, they have their tyrannical Gov’t.

    Like (7)
    Follow
    Share
  • KyleCorley
    Voted Happy
    08/23/2018
    ···

    It still needs to be updated and reformed again as you still have those on benefits not wanting to work because they can't afford to loose their benefits. It was the step in the right direction though.

    Like (3)
    Follow
    Share
  • SneakyPete
    Voted Excited
    08/23/2018
    ···

    Personal Responsibility & Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act I was in strong support and was blah in seeing on August 22, 1996, that President Bill Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act into law, reforming America’s welfare system through a bipartisan compromise with a Republican-controlled Congress. Among the legislation’s main reforms were a new requirement that welfare recipients work to continue receiving benefits and a five-year cap for families receiving federal welfare dollars. The deal accomplished bipartisan goals. It fulfilled Clinton’s campaign pledge Clinton to “end welfare as we have come to know it,” while also enacting a key portion of the Republican party’s Contract With America. But the legislation remains controversial to this day. Proponents point to decreased welfare enrollment and higher employment rates as signs of its success, while detractors say it hasn’t done enough to help those still in poverty. 8*23*18 ..... SneakyPete.

    Like (3)
    Follow
    Share
  • Anne
    08/23/2018
    ···

    We brag to the world that we live in the greatest country in the world! Yet we have 16million children, who are food insufficient, 40,000 homeless vets, and we spent the majority of our money on our military! Something is very wrong with this picture!!!

    Like (5)
    Follow
    Share
  • Jorge
    Voted Angry
    08/23/2018
    ···

    Bill Clinton's reign marked the final transition of the Democratic Party to the "middle" or the "center," that place where everybody is trying to catch up with the right wing. As the right wing keeps moving rightwards, so does the "middle." "Personal responsibility" was a giant step in blaming the poor (and relieving the rich of any duty to pay their dues). I am looking forward to the day when the Democratic Party denounces the Clinton legacy and starts representing the actual (non wealthy) people.

    Like (1)
    Follow
    Share
  • Linda
    Voted Happy
    08/24/2018
    ···

    There are many who simply can't get work, as there aren't many employers that hire disable . Families that have children ,single parent, need to be able yo care for this kids at least till they start school full time.

    Like
    Follow
    Share
  • James
    08/23/2018
    ···

    That was Written by Gov. Tommy Thompson of Wisconsin! It forced lazy folks off of the system and it didn’t go far enough! The taxpayer can no longer handle this burden!

    Like (5)
    Follow
    Share
  • David
    08/23/2018
    ···

    The GOP is now touting that getting welfare recipients to work is their idea, yet will not sign on to a national minimum wage of $15/hr. There are too many of the working poor, stuck in low wage jobs, who can barely afford rent and food, let alone clothes for their children. Now the Department of Health and Human Services is decreasing their subsidies for low income housing, making the poor, poorer. And no, a $15 minimum wage will NOT hurt businesses. On the contrary, raising wages prevents employee turnover, and allows people to buy more consumer goods, such as clothes and school supplies for their kids, as well as food for their tables. Increased consumerism trickles UP to businesses. An increased minimum wage could decrease the need for housing subsidies, as people will be able to pay more anyway. The need for low income housing will still exist, however, as well as before/after school child care. A $15 minimum wage also keeps people on the tax rolls, and adds to the strength of Social Security and Medicare. Although it is hardly considered middle class (a notion most Republicans would argue with), less government funding would be spent on FORCING people to work, money that could go into existing community college programs that improve skills at lower or free cost to people who qualify, moving them into even better jobs. The GOP has already approved funding for more training in exchange for welfare, instead of decreasing the welfare by increasing the minimum wage. They are touting this program as some revolutionary new plan, when in reality, it is meant to kick people to the street if they don't obey orders and take a $7.75/hr job. We've already seen the #GOPTaxScam yield hundreds of billions of dollars for the 1% of those that don't need it, while wages remain stagnant. And those who are seeing some wage increases are not seeing the big picture, that their tax breaks are TEMPORARY. I hope these people are not hoping to plan 17 years ahead for a college fund, or 30 years ahead for retirement, because the #GOPTaxScam is cutting these breaks in order to pay for the $1,500,000,000,000. (that's 1.5 TRILLION) that this scam is adding to the deficit. Of course, they don't seem to be telling people about that.

    Like (4)
    Follow
    Share
  • Jeff
    08/23/2018
    ···

    Yea uhh....I’m pretty sure it is impossible that there have ever been 1.875 billion families enrolled in any program, much less a U.S. federal government one...lol. Someone might want to check those figures...

    Like (3)
    Follow
    Share
  • John
    08/23/2018
    ···

    One of the last bipartisan acts I can remember. After that working together to solve America’s problems became a distant memory. Both the dems and GOP can take credit for that.

    Like (3)
    Follow
    Share
  • Cindy
    08/23/2018
    ···

    “The GOP work with President Clinton on a bipartisan bill” too bad it never goes the other way.

    Like (2)
    Follow
    Share
  • Norma
    08/23/2018
    ···

    Bipartisan is also a nostalgic word the Republicans are destroying this country reversing environmental protection’s, welfare programs. how will the bottom 99% be the consumer of all these over inflated corporations if you dismantle our ability to even make money and have a decent living.

    Like (2)
    Follow
    Share
  • Mark
    08/23/2018
    ···

    With the constant political drumbeating and focus coming from the corporate Conservative media (FOX) and corporate Conservative politicians (Republicans and corporate Democrats) towards the poor who collect government assistance known as welfare, the real question that should be asked is when is congress going to reform the trillions of dollars that government provided and continues to provide to corporations and Wall Street also known as welfare or FREE STUFF???? Example, billions in government provided tax subsidies every year to multi billion profitable oil companies who don’t need it.

    Like (2)
    Follow
    Share
  • Loretta
    08/23/2018
    ···

    Bipartisan ... what’s that? Something the congress knows nothing about since then.

    Like (2)
    Follow
    Share
  • Tooluser1
    08/23/2018
    ···

    Was this before or after Slick Willie testified under oath that "he did not have sex with that woman"?

    Like (1)
    Follow
    Share
  • Susan
    08/23/2018
    ···

    It was a brilliant stroke of genius for the time. It reduced a welfare benefit over time instead of leaving it never ending, discouraging, making it hard for the individuals on it to find a way out. If that safety net isn’t provided, our homeless epidemic will be far worse then it is right now.

    Like (1)
    Follow
    Share
  • Lisa
    08/25/2018
    ···

    There is so much ignorance around the plight of the poor . Propaganda would lead you to believe they’re lazy and living to receive handouts. In actuality most are the working poor, busting their asses for wages that don’t amount to anything. Keep believing the “good Ol boy story” about who the poor are in America while you suck the pork out of your bleached teeth . Fools. Ignorant fools.

    Like (1)
    Follow
    Share
  • Azrael
    08/23/2018
    ···

    And as I type the rethugs are trying to undo it

    Like (1)
    Follow
    Share
  • Anthony4520
    08/23/2018
    ···

    The cover photo itself is one of the most racist things I’ve seen in a long time! It living proof that the Democratic Party uses minorities to further its nefarious freedom crushing and government dependency plans.

    Like (1)
    Follow
    Share
  • onebrownowen
    08/23/2018
    ···

    people in america really think poor people are lazy huh. so quick to defend cops shooting people but regardless of situation people on food stamps are just lazy huh

    Like
    Follow
    Share