Peter the Citizen and “Less Appealing” Indiana

On Wednesday, I shared portions of an analysis of TANF–welfare after “reform”–from Peter the Citizen, a conservative policy analyst who has deep experience with social welfare policies.

Among the many papers he has written on the subject is one I found particularly interesting, because it references poverty and welfare policy in my home state of Indiana–and because Peter’s analysis is consistent with my own understanding of conditions in the Hoosier state.

In this particular paper, Peter was responding to an article attributing the “success” of welfare reform to the fact that such reforms have made welfare “less appealing.” (I suspect that many recipients would be shocked to discover they were accepting help because they found it “appealing.”) His rejoinder is worth reproducing at some length.

TANF is best viewed on a state-by- state basis and digging deeper suggests that there are limits to Winship’s argument about making welfare “less appealing.” Some states have tried to focus on real “welfare reform” (to the extent they can given the limitations of TANF’s block grant structure and dysfunctional federal requirements), while others use it primarily as a slush fund and have adopted very harsh policies to push families off the welfare rolls. Using a simplistic pre-post approach, one can easily compare states over time based on the harshness of their policies. (Note: This is not the evaluation approach I prefer, but it seems to resonate with conservatives.)

Robert Doar, now at the American Enterprise Institute, says he ran a “model” TANF program in New York – both at the state level and in New York City. (Doar’s bio states: “Before joining the Bloomberg administration, he was commissioner of social services for the state of New York, where he helped to make the state a model for the implementation of welfare reform.”) Doar is proud of New York City’s track record in reducing poverty:

In America’s biggest cities, more and more Americans are now living in poverty. From 2000 to 2013, the poverty rate in America’s 20 largest cities grew by 36 percent, to an average of 22.7 percent. Nationally, the poverty rate has risen too, from 11.3 percent in 2000 to 14.8 percent in 2014.

But there’s one stand-out exception to this phenomenon: New York City.

Over the last decade, New York City’s poverty rate has defied national trends by declining. While New York once suffered one of the highest poverty rates among the country’s large cities, today it boasts one of the lowest…

Indeed, Doar presents data to show that between 2000 and 2013, the percent change in poverty in New York City was minus 0.9 percent – the lowest in the nation among major cities, followed by Los Angeles and San Diego (plus 3.6 and plus 7.5 percent, respectively). At the opposite end of the spectrum, with the largest increases, were Indianapolis (81.5 percent), Charlotte (67 percent), and Detroit (57.9 percent).

Notably, both New York and California (the states with the top three cities) have much more appealing TANF programs than Indiana, North Carolina, and Michigan (the states with the bottom three cities) and they have become relatively more appealing over time. New York and California didn’t eliminate the entitlement (an important component of “welfare reform” for conservatives), they don’t impose full family sanctions or enforce the federal 5-year time limit (California removes the adult’s needs after 48 months but children continue to receive benefits; New York simply continues assistance with state funds.) Both states have among the most generous benefits, paying over $700 a month for a family of three. In contrast, the states with the cities in the bottom three have lower benefits ($272 to $492 a month for a family of three), do impose full-family sanctions and do enforce the federal 5-year limit and two have shorter time limits (24 months in Indiana – for adults – and 48 months in Michigan – for the entire family).

While Indiana, North Carolina and Michigan were “less appealing” in 1996 (and 2000) than both California and New York, they have become much, much less appealing over time. For example, between 1996 and 2014, the TANF-to-poverty ratio (the ratio of families receiving cash assistance per 100 poor families with children) fell from 101 to 65 in California and from 79 to 40 in New York. The declines were much larger in Indiana (61 to 8), North Carolina (74 to 8), and Michigan (88 to 18).15 The maximum benefit for a family of three fell 23 percent in real terms in California and 10 percent in New York; compare that to Indiana (-34 percent), North Carolina (-34 percent), and Michigan (-30 percent). TANF is failing as a safety net everywhere, but much more so in some states than others.

I’ve written before about the United Way of Indiana’s description of ALICE families (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) and the huge gap between what those families need simply in order to survive and the public and private resources available to them.

There’s a lot of faux concern about “welfare dependency” expressed by people who are quite comfortable themselves. What those people worry about is “takers” getting too comfortable with those appealing “handouts”.

Peter the Citizen uses the term properly, to describe people who depend upon social welfare programs in order to survive.

There are many things policymakers could do to decrease that real-world dependency: raise the minimum wage, reinstitute Reagan-era tax brackets, eliminate the ACA in favor of “Medicare for All”…and jettison a self-satisfied ideology that equates poverty with a lack of moral fiber and “middle-class values.”


  1. Oh, that the 81.5 percent increase in poverty for Indianapolis represented all of the increase in poverty for the State of Indiana. But to the wide eyed and open minded one can see the massive increase of poverty in rural and small town areas of the state. And the state’s response? Conservative, Republican, Christian leaders through their media stooges release news report after news report about how the economy in Indiana is growing and so great. “Look, look… seven hundred jobs saved! No more problem.) To believe them is to willfully ignore the suffering of others as one resides in a bubble of smug self-righteousness, ensconced in enclaves of wealth and privilege.

    “Revolution is nothing more than the kicking in of a rotten door.”

  2. I managed a child support division through the Prosecutor’s office in a small Indiana county for several years. At that time, it was known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) – now Temporary Assistance to Needy Families TANF).

    For most TANF recipients, the underlying reason they receive TANF is the lack of a parent who is to provide support and fails to do so. Child support is intertwined with TANF, and, any in-depth discussion must include this critical element.

    Title IV-D of the Social Security Act requires every state to provide child support services. From the Indiana site:

    “If the custodial party or the person who has primary legal custody over the child or children applies for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits, the case is automatically referred to the Title-IV-D Child Support Program for establishment and enforcement of child support. The custodial party is required to cooperate with the local county prosecutor’s Title IV-D child support office by providing any information or documents needed to establish paternity and a child support order.”

    Mandatory participation in the Title IV-D program triggered by receipt of TANF payments allows the State to go after absconding parents to enforce child support as well as recover the the state’s portion (or most of it) that it has provided through TANF as a stand-in for the missing parent.

    I am always concerned that so many discussions about TANF (welfare) do not address the issue of an absconding parent. This is critical to understanding TANF. To continue to blame those on TANF for situations that may be beyond their control due to an absentee parent is disingenuous and misleading.

    TANF is a gender-based issue since most custodial parents are still the mothers (about 80%).

  3. The gop propaganda machine has been extremely successful for decades and more so in the past 10 years. They continue to whine that corporations need more tax cuts and corporate welfare, while the stock values increase along with the income of the C suites.

    They have kept alive the claim that welfare recipients are just lazy and want handouts for doing nothing and the gop voters in Indiana believe this garbage. Even the ones who are struggling financially continue to vote against their own interests. As I write this I am just completely disgusted by the immense ignorance of voters.

    Sheila, I sent you an email regarding Paul Ryan’s plan to cut Medicaid. I plan to do everything in my power to stop that from happening. I just hope that by contacting members of congress and our legislature I won’t find myself hitting brick walls.

  4. Charlotte A. Weybright,

    “I am always concerned that so many discussions about TANF (welfare) do not address the issue of an absconding parent. This is critical to understanding TANF. To continue to blame those on TANF for situations that may be beyond their control due to an absentee parent is disingenuous and misleading.”

    Thanks for the info in your post and your above statement hits the nail on the head regarding the stigma and punishment of single mothers who are trying to support a family on (typically) poverty level minimum wage jobs.

    If the evangelicals get their way these same women will also not have access to birth control. Hmmm, maybe then we can ridicule women even more than we do now when they get pregnant and bring babies into this world that they cannot afford to give the basics of food and shelter to. Never mind that men have a part in this situation. Oh, and by all means, let’s keep the minimum wage at below poverty level so we can continue with the welfare going to the corporations who are the truly needy ‘citizens’.

  5. Facts such as “Indiana has more than 20% of the children living in poverty*,” say a lot about how our state is governed. Our state legislators, governors, congressmen and senators have ignored the needs of people in our state and failed to properly fund our basic needs. Everything from job opportunities, to health care, and education results in the dismal record of continued high poverty rates since 2010. The number of children in poverty has dropped some in 2015, but that is only because the population of Indiana has decreased, the percentage remains the same. Our state needs to have proper funding of social services along with public commons to bring us out of this decline. But this year we will have less revenue coming in because of a tax cut and the state legislature will sit on their 2 billion surplus and continue to ignore the problems they cause.


  6. Todd is a dreamer or hasn’t been paying attention to the multitude of failed attempts to raise minimum wage and low wages for the millions of underpaid who are lucky enough to have a job. Even if this feat is accomplished, the poor and welfare will always be with us.

    There will always be those who slip through the cracks in the many forms of “welfare system”; partly because of the overload and understaffed situation. There are always those who take advantage and believe they have that right; I saw many of them years ago when working the admit/release office at General Hospital. Well dressed people blatantly admitted to receiving AFDC, food stamps, lived in government subsidized housing and included their income from jobs which paid more than I earned.

    Dealing with an ex-husband who played games with child support for our FIVE children; I was without the basic $15 per child for 3-4 months. I worked in the Indianapolis Police Department under Mayor Richard Lugar and my income was $64 weekly (before paying my 2% donation to the Republican party each payday). The situation and my low income qualified me for food stamps; I told the counselor it would only be temporary. When the child support began again and I found a slightly higher paying job, I returned the food stamps with a letter telling them to remove my name because I no longer qualified. The next month I got the same amount of food stamps, returned them with another letter. The third month; I took the food stamps to their office and waited with dozens of others (mostly white people) to return the stamps and get my name removed. The counselor had to find out how to accomplish that because she had not seen it before.

    The well known story about Julia Carson fits here; she was the daughter of a single mother who was in poor health. Julia, as a young child, often had to go to the Washington Township Trustee Office to “beg” for food. She remembered those days and when years later she was elected Washington Township Trustee she demanded staff treat every applicant with respect. She and her staff also paid unscheduled visits to home of recipients to see that they actually qualified. If they did not; they were served legal orders to report to the court and to repay the amount they had received.

    The system in beyond overload now; it is overwhelmed. This includes those who need and deserve Social Security Disability who must wait sometimes FIVE years to be qualified. I wonder if statistics regarding deaths of those on the waiting list are maintained?

  7. Well, here we are again with real life examples of what works and what doesn’t work. In a rational world, we would all do what works. In out post-factual world, we will continue to do what doesn’t work. Thank you right-wing America.

  8. I agree that we have to do something about “welfare” and the bums who are living on the public till, but I refer to corporate welfare, the real bums whose welfare returns via tax cuts and other such public giveaways dwarf human welfare programs. The rich and corporate class has sold America (see Reagan’s “welfare queens” et al.) on the idea that anyone who is on welfare is a bad person and eating steak and living it up at public expense when they are only projecting their own “welfare” status via such diversionary propaganda.

    With the great number of people in poverty we have it is very likely that some will take advantage of the “system,” but in truth all corporations and the rich in general are taking advantage of the hodge podge admixture of state and federal “systems,” and the reason has to do with political power. We desperately need new and thoughtful people in our state and federal legislatures who are sensitive to this dichotomy and are determined to end it.

    We can eradicate poverty in this country by instituting a guaranteed annual wage as (surprise!) Nixon once recommended which, of course, failed to resonate with the legislative moralists, the same moralists who were stuffing the coffers of their corporate friends and campaign contributors with welfare galore.

  9. Let’s see if we can figure this out. The vast majority of adults needing welfare are women. Most adult Medicaid recipients are women. The Republicans want to take away family planning, abortion, TANF, Medicaid, deny women fair pay, push people toward paternalistic religion, etc. It’s almost like they hate women or something.

  10. I’m suspicious of Republicans. I don’t think that they give a hoot about anything but power. Welfare is to them a chess piece to be moved in support of gathering power.

    We’ve seen this before. The antebellum era. Back then it was blue vs gray instead of blue vs red but the power struggle was the same.

    Republicans know that accepting TrumPence and the country club cabinet got them one more shot in DC at the expense of American success in the rest of the world. Time for states rights to consolidate power where their base is.

    In antebellum days a split north to south didn’t hurt the Union at all economically. It was merely an affront to Lincoln’s patriotism.

    But the west coast, north-east present day split, while impractical as a separate country, is the same as the Union economically. The red states are welfare states to the business of the blue states.

    So Republicans will cede D.C. and build their power where they can in the states. Any power they can move from D.C. to the states now is a future power grab for them.

  11. I also noticed during the election that the “alt-right” seemed to resemble the guys who keep complaining about women’s power and referring to themselves as “meninists.” Hmmmmm.

  12. Gerald, you are certainly correct on the Corporate Welfare scam. Here in Indianapolis the Colts and Pacers are prime examples. With the projection of a mirage and twisting beyond all recognition the meaning of the word investment – The Corporate Welfare for the Colts and Pacers becomes an investment. This lie is repeated over and over again.

    A checker board of local, state, and federal tax laws, plus direct and indirect subsidies produce Crony-Capitalism. Some companies receive the subsidies and others do not. Winners and losers in reference to the taxes they pay are selected by our elected officials. It would seem to me this would not be constitutional. What if our tax laws were applied based upon a persons racial, ethnic or religion?? This would be clearly discrimination. The Pacers and Colts receive tax subsidies, but other businesses do not.

    IMHO, poverty is a result of the failure of Capitalism at several levels. I think we could all agree the vast majority of people would want a living wage job rather than accepting welfare. The problem is Capitalism is not producing enough living wage jobs.

    Our system of higher education whether it is college or trade schools has an entry level cost. So then we have young people saddled with huge loans. Higher education and Health Care in the USA is based upon an ability to pay for it. I have read the highest paid employees at colleges and universities are the coaches.

    A desired out come for America as a whole should be well educated healthy society (free higher education, and single payer health care system). With our present system the Neo-Liberal Capitalist Profit System reigns supreme and the 1% is all that counts.

  13. As Charlotte Weybright explained in an earlier post today, TANF is directly interwoven with the state’s office of Child Support. “If the custodial party or the person who has primary legal custody over the child or children applies for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits, the case is automatically referred to the Title-IV-D Child Support Program for establishment and enforcement of child support.”

    Next, the father must be named, paternity must be established, followed by location of the father’s workplace (if any). Indiana does, by state law, maintain a record of these absconding fathers; however, I’m unsure if Indiana publishes a list of deadbeat dads as do some other states.

    Kentucky has had amazing results from publishing deadbeat dad lists in all local and state newspapers. Here’s a recent article that exemplifies what all counties in Kentucky now do in a very public manner.

  14. A major problem regarding women raising children alone with no child support from the fathers; too often it is because the court ordered child support be paid but the court order was/is ignored. Then the women are required to come up with the money to pay for a SEPARATE CASE TO FORCE PAYMENT OF CHILD SUPPORT WHEN THE PROBLEM IS REFUSAL TO OBEY THE ORIGINAL COURT ORDER. Why is this a separate case – other than collecting those additional filing fees? Does this make sense to anyone other than the judicial system collecting additional fees from women already short of money and the attorneys hired to refile the additional case? If investigated; I’m sure many of the women raising children alone and depending on any form of public assistance is in this ridiculous situation. When someone is arrested for murder, the victim’s family luckily is not required to pay a filing fee to charge the suspect with discharging a weapon within city limits. Hope I didn’t give any idea to our local legal/judicial system.

  15. Pete said- “So Republicans will cede D.C. and build their power where they can in the states. Any power they can move from D.C. to the states now is a future power grab for them.”

    Right on target. If for some reason a state like say California gets frisky and decides to have higher standards for pollution or something else, the DC Republicans will try and circumvent that.

    The Republicans are a hydra-headed monster now at the Presidential, Senate and House and in many states where they have the trifecta – control of the Governor’s office and majorities in the legislative bodies.

  16. JoAnn, you brought up something that I witnessed years ago. I worked with many young single mothers who were paid low wages. They couldn’t afford the court or attorney fees to go after their children’s fathers when they stopped paying child support. A couple of the women’s experiences were that whenever they went after the fathers for child support, the fathers would quit their job and move with no forwarding address. The women finally came to the conclusion that they could not afford to waste the money and also take time off from their jobs to attend court. It was too costly and didn’t get them any better off financially. What a crazy system.

  17. TANF has some good qualities. The enforcement of child support is an integral piece of the TANF program. “If the custodial party or the person who has primary legal custody over the child or children applies for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits, the case is automatically referred to the Title-IV-D Child Support Program for establishment and enforcement of child support.”

    Once an application for TANF is completed the next immediate step is involving the office of Child Support who investigates and enforces the child support payment from the absconding parent. The custodial parent does not have to open a court case to receive child support. Either the absconding/deadbeat parent is located and pays, or the TANF program pays in lieu.

  18. There are a couple of anecdotal occurrences that come to mind after reading the above posts by those with actual experience with the system of child support.

    One is the ability of the mother to name the father. Drug addiction and promiscuity to pay for it can make it almost impossible for a father to be identified. If the child was conceived through rape or incest, the possible repercussions for the child and mother in identifying the father may be physically/socially dangerous for both. Court protective orders are violated, often with deathly outcomes, more often than we like to believe.

    The other is the fact that men have been abandoning families for centuries. Quitting a job to avoid garnishment is not unusual. Getting paid in cash as a “sub-contractor” or day laborer is another way to avoid the system. Certainly, leaving the state is always an option.

    It always fascinates me when I hear about a man who suddenly is found or reaches out to his adult children at the end of his life. Where was he when the children needed him?

    My husband has a fairly common name and has been contacted for years by several states in the mistaken belief that he is delinquent in child support to the tune of $64,000 in AZ. As soon as he verifies that he is not the person they are pursuing, several months will go by, then the calls start once again as the information is passed along to another collection group and/or state agency. It has become a joke in our family as he has never lived outside of the state, rarely travels outside the state and then always with family, but apparently has had this secret life for decades.

    The point is that there will always be situations that cannot be resolved by the bureaucracy and its requirements. That means there are going to be people who through uncontrollable circumstances cannot meet the requirements of the system. The fact that there are so many in that position now makes it all the more tragic that birth control, food security, living wage and equal pay continue to be elusive for them. Even more tragic is that those in power are so lacking in empathy and imagination that the plight of the children, especially, is ignored.

  19. A certain percentage of any society prefers criminal behaviour to work. My experience is that they are pretty uniformly distributed across all demographics.

    I don’t believe that any honest person supports anything that doesn’t result in appropriate by law consequences for criminal behaviour.

    The problem is that many paint that criminality with too broad a brush. It would be more functional if we all agreed that criminal behaviour needs appropriate consequences but non criminal behaviour deserves the same respect no matter the demographics and that we all have our own story about our journey to wherever we are.

    Insurance is risk sharing. So is government and society. So is deserving welfare. If all of us dealt winning hands shared the risk of those dealt losing hands, and relied on law enforcement of all stripe to sort out the criminal element life could be better for everyone.

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