Twenty years ago this month, President Bill Clinton signed a landmark bill fulfilling his pledge to “end welfare as we know it.” It was the biggest change Clinton made in national policy, and it lanced a political boil that had vexed Americans for a generation.
Both accomplishments, substantive and political, are worth celebrating today as we witness the most bizarre U.S. presidential election ever. If the rise of GOP nominee Donald Trump shows us democracy at its worst, welfare reform offers an inspiring example of how the system can work.
The summer of 1996 was one of those rare moments when political adversaries come together to make radical alterations in the status quo, rather than incremental nips and tucks. The bill Clinton signed replaced the 61-year-old federal entitlement to cash benefits with a new program, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), designed to require and reward work.
It marked the culmination of decades of mounting public dissatisfaction with a welfare system that seemed to entrench poverty and dependence rather than help people escape from them. Welfare was a favorite whipping boy of Republicans, who made it a symbol of the liberal entitlement state run amuck. They used its unpopularity to drive a wedge between Democrats’ working-class and poor and minority supporters.
Continue reading at The Hill.