Those Pesky Facts

One of my earliest research projects when I entered academia focused on an element of the “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996,”  (PRWORA) aka welfare reform. I looked at the consequences of the measure’s invitation to (undefined) Faith-Based Organizations to help government agencies provide welfare services.

Needless to say, the “armies of compassion” envisioned by George W. Bush failed to materialize, since the invitation was based largely on fanciful–indeed, “faith-based”–beliefs about the capacities of the invitees.

I mention this in order to explain my heightened interest in a recent “spat” between Peter the Citizen and Arthur Brooks.

In “The Dignity Deficit: Reclaiming Americans’ Sense of Purpose,” Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), emphasizes the importance of work requirements for welfare programs and suggests that the 1996 welfare reform law provides a model for other safety net programs:

Putting more people to work must also become an explicit aim of the social safety net. Arguably, the greatest innovation in social policy in recent history was the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. The PRWORA, which became synonymous with the phrase “welfare reform,” made several major changes to federal policy. It devolved greater flexibility to the states but established new constraints, such as a limit on how long someone could receive federal welfare benefits and a work requirement for most able-bodied adults.

As Peter points out, PRWORA changed a number of programs, but what Brooks is lauding is TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). Peter, like Brooks, is a political conservative; he was a  former member of the Reagan Administration whose “portfolio” was welfare programs.
And he begs to differ.

For the past two years, I have been writing papers as a citizen to highlight TANF’s many problems. My hope is that conservatives will adopt more “rigor” in their assessment of the 1996 law and use evidence rather than ideology in developing reform proposals.

Brooks claims that TANF reduced poverty, and that its “lessons” about “the dignity of work” should be extended to other poverty programs. Peter convincingly demolishes the first assertion, and provides copious data to prove his point. Although he clearly agrees that there are “lessons” to be learned,  the content of those lessons differs significantly from what Brooks suggests.  I really encourage readers to click through and read the entire paper. The exchange illustrates the difference between ideology and intellectual integrity–between seeing what you want to see and seeing what the evidence shows.

What really caught my eye, however, were the following observations (emphasis mine):

TANF’s block grant structure creates a situation in which states don’t have the resources to run meaningful welfare-to-work programs, as the amount is not adjusted for inflation or demographic changes. This problem is exacerbated when state politicians divert scarce funds to plug budget holes….

In fiscal year (FY) 2015, just 25 percent of TANF funds were used to provide basic cash assistance and just 7 percent were for work-related activities, despite the fact that the number of poor families with children was higher in 2015 than in 1996. In many states, TANF has become a slush fund used to supplant state spending and fill budget holes…

Since TANF’s inception, states have used tens of billions of federal TANF dollars to simply replace existing state spending. For example, Jon Peacock of the Wisconsin Budget Project explains how “a significant portion of the federal funding for … assistance is being siphoned off for use elsewhere in the budget, to the detriment of the Wisconsin Works (W-2) program and child care subsidies for low-income working families.” It would be one thing if poverty had declined in Wisconsin since TANF’s enactment, but the poverty rate for children in Wisconsin grew from 14.3 percent in 1997 to 18.4 percent in 2011. If the supplanted funds were used to fund other programs for poor families, the practice would be less harmful, but that doesn’t seem to be what happens in Wisconsin. According to Peacock, “That shell game uses TANF funds to free up state funds [general purpose revenue] (GPR) to use for other purposes, such as the proposed income tax cuts.”

Trump’s budget–which combines utter fantasy with gratuitous cruelty (eliminating Meals on Wheels!?)– contains deep cuts to Medicaid and proposes to  fund what’s left through block grants, facilitating–and probably ensuring– precisely the sort of “shell game” that the states have played with TANF.

Anyone who thinks that the monies sent to the states via Medicaid block grants would all be applied to the costs of providing medical care for poor people is smoking something, and it’s hallucinogenic.


  1. If the President’s Trumpcare raises the premiums of health insurance to 5 times that of younger policyholders AND cuts Medicaid AND eliminates Meals on Wheels for seniors, connecting the dots of that triple whammy on retirees means many will no longer be able to live at home alone. If they go to nursing homes and haven’t the money for that care, they’ll be on Medicaid for nursing home care, yet Trump wants to cut Medicaid. This is a lose-lose-lose situation for poor seniors and for the federal budget. Trump is cutting off the noses of senior citizens and it will spite Trump’s face and the budget. Less healthy seniors with more of them having to go to nursing homes with fewer resources for poor seniors is FAR more expensive than seniors living at home with some assistance.

    The President needs someone in the Office of Management and Budget who understands how to connect the dots so that he doesn’t end up costing both lives and a prudent budget. The proposed cuts are penny wise and pound foolish.

  2. The proposed budget demonstrates how easily Trump is directed by his “advisors”, none of whom stood for election. On the positive side, it is another assurance that he’ll be a one-term president,if he lasts one term.

    And Todd Rokita (poster child for voter disenfranchisement) was on the News Hour last night defending Trump’s draft budget and explaining how congress was going to consider everything before finalizing the budget. I’m sure they will give the poor and elderly due consideration (sarcasm intended).

  3. Nancy Papas; I switched to MSNBC yesterday just in time to catch the end of Trump’s budget director’s (can’t remember his name) comments regarding the budget being “compassionate” to the donors (tax payers) who pay for the useless programs like Meals on Wheels and feeding hungry children in after school programs. He then stalked off the state in a huff saying, “How does Sean Spicer do this every day for an hour and a half?” He was referring to questions from the press at the daily press conference. My question is – how does the press sit there every day through Sean Spicer’s senseless, uninformative, non-answers to their questions for that hour and a half? Are they locked in the room? Are they required to speak only after raising their hand like a school child and being called on by Spicer?

    I watched in fascination, after the question was posed, “Do you continue to uphold President Trump’s claim that President Obama “wire-tapped” Trump Tower?” Spicer went into a several minutes long soliloquy, reading countless months old news reports from many sources, obviously prepared beforehand knowing that question would be asked. His expressionless face, with no break between the many previously published news articles (which upheld the question of the need for the investigation) reminded me of the old Minnie Pearl hit song on Grand Ole Opery: “This Song Ain’t Got No Swallerin’ Places”.

    “The President needs someone in the Office of Management and Budget who understands how to connect the dots so that he doesn’t end up costing both lives and a prudent budget.”

    Your sentence, copied and pasted above, is totally on target and proves what I saw on that stage yesterday; the current budget director doesn’t even see the dots. His statement regarding the budget being “compassionate” to the taxpayers rather than hungry people being fed, proves your point. This entire Trump administration operates on the premise, “I got mine, you get your’s.”

  4. While this Trump budget is a reflection of the man’s soulless view of the country he supposedly leads; the operation of the Federal government since January 20th is a reflection of the Republican Party and its supporters. That reflection is “deplorable”.

  5. So the end-game of this “budget” is that Seniors end up homeless and without resources. I believe the current Administration, run by Steve Bannon and his band of hooligans (Trump is nothing more than a puppet) understands this and in fact this is their goal. Bannon wants to dismantle governance and create chaos and war. If no one stands in his way, the U.S. will experience its second Civil War.

  6. Holly,

    Because of the lack of intelligence and preparedness of the Pro-Democracy forces, the Second Civil War will be over in a matter of weeks just like when the German army defeated the Poles almost overnight. It was tanks against the mounted cavalry. It will be a ROUTagain.

  7. 45’s advisors are doing exactly what he wants them to do. They run the government (into the ground) while he goes to a “rally” to feed his ego. Since we can pretty much know that those people applauding and chanting, “Lock her up!” will never read or watch anything that will truly inform them, how long will it take before they realize just how much these policies affect them, personally?

    I know I must sound like a broken record, but the solution is in the ballot box. Those who declined to take enough of an interest to vote in 2016 should take responsibility for 45 and everything he and his minions do. If they don’t recognize this and don’t feel some obligation in 2018, we can kiss this country goodbye. It will be too many years in recovery for me to see a return to decency.

  8. Again on the failure of intelligence [which I’ve been warning about for about two years on this blog].

    “A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a prologue to a farce, or a tragedy, or perhaps both.”

    ~President James Madison

  9. Peggy,

    “I know I must sound like a broken record, but the solution is in the ballot box.”

    At the rate we’re going, there won’t be anything to vote for in 2018 other than FREEDOM and I doubt if that can be accomplished by the ballot box.

  10. Let’s face it we’ve been SWINDLED. We need to recover from the shock before we lose everything.

    This isn’t Germany. The Jews were less than 1% of the population. We don’t have to be FROZEN. They didn’t have any other choice. WE DO. We have the abililty to STAND UP.

  11. Civil wars are hardly civil and are the worst kinds of wars to have since, as in our Civil War, all casualties were Americans. All of us have to learn how to disagree without being disagreeable and yet stick to our principles while either agreeing or disagreeing with our fellow Americans. Trump has made such an approach hard to do with his irresponsible chatter and incessant lying to a gullible audience, but we as good citizens have to somehow work with Trump voters in dismantling his influence over his own backers, which I predict will be easier to do as his anti-people policies take hold and many of such misled millions come to understand that they have been duped.

    Day to day fear-mongering, governors who take block grant monies to shore up their budgets and/or give tax cuts to their supporters, Tillerson’s warlike changes of policies toward North Korea (which are not changes at all since the military option has been on the table since 1953), return to the cave social policy and other such poorly considered initiatives are all fair game for dissent and we as concerned citizens must dissent forcefully and without letup.

    Bannon knows our democracy is at stake, and so do we. He apparently wants (as he says) to destroy administrative government in favor of some ill-defined “New World,” whatever that is. From appearances to date, his New World involves some sort of authoritarian control which is in direct opposition to the fundamental idea of self-government contained in democratic institutions. That must be resisted at all costs since if our democracy evaporates, we don’t have a country; we have an ATM machine where the voteless masses make their serfdom official in the service of their overlords in a return to a form of medieval politics even while our economy continues to automate and unemployed humans become a burden to their rich and corporate owners. Let’s not have a war; let’s talk our way out of this and have a rebirth of democracy that is people-centered rather than Wall Street-centered. The transition of our economy from the industrial to the knowledge is providing us with many points of friction in re trade, wage inequality etc., but we have survived transitions before and can manage this one as well without spinning our political wheels on trade treaty threats of protectionism, abandonment of NATO and the like. Do we have time to engage in the luxury of day to day gotcha politics (though we cannot disengage if we are to prevent the crash of our democratic edifice)? I think the answer is yes; but time is fleeting and under assault by the Bannonites. If we are to save our most precious asset – our democracy – then we must work ceaselessly to preserve it. Nothing is more important, since without it we are just another Rome awaiting 476 A.D.

  12. Gerald,

    That was great. The only thing that I might add is that WE are more important to Western Civilization than Rome was in 476 A.D. The following might be a better reference point:

    “Our demise will be more analogous to the transition from the Bronze age to the Iron Age during the late 13th and early 12th centuries BCE as it changed the structure and course of world history more fundamentally than any period before or since. During this period, numerous wealthy and enduring kingdoms of the eastern Mediterranean Sea region COLLAPSED, and new ones rose in their place.”

    “The Sea Peoples: The Mysterious Nomads Who Ushered in the Iron Age” by Charles River Editors.

  13. Gerald,

    We must understand that what we’re facing is not analogous to the Civil Rights Movement. We’re in the prelude to a Civil War. It’s being precipitated by the impotence of the Pro-Democracy Forces.

    This is a new CONTEXT. It takes new strategies and tactics. If they’re not implemented at once, it will be “tanks against the mounted cavalry” all over again.

    The time for talk, as you have so wisely advised, is quickly running out.

  14. For readers who might not know:
    2018 is coming soon to oust Trump/Pence, the liars in Washington, and the quislings in Congress and in state government offices who sent delegates to the Electoral College to overturn the otherwise decisive popular vote. Ready for the campaign blitz? Prevent the looming World War before it begins by draining the CURRENT swamp.

    “The 2018 United States elections will mostly be held on
    TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 2018. These midterm elections will take place in the middle of Republican President Donald Trump’s first term. All 435 seats in the United States House of Representatives and 34 of the 100 seats in the United States Senate will be contested. 39 state and territorial governorships and numerous other state and local elections will also be contested.”
    “The United States presidential election is an indirect election in which citizens of the United States who are registered to vote in one of the 50 U.S. states or the District of Columbia cast ballots for members of the Electoral College, known as electors. These electors then in turn cast direct votes, known as electoral votes, in their respective state capitals for President and Vice President of the United States.”
    TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 6, 2018 is your last chance to make certain that Trump/Pence will not be a two-termers but remain the TWO-TIMERs they already are.

  15. Is it oversimplification to still believe that democracy can work as long as it’s built on a foundation of real journalism?

    If not, part of what must be done is to rebuild that infrastructure. Today it suffers from inadequate business models. We’re unsure how to fund it given that the old delivery technology has been completely obsoleted.

    We, those who revere the Constitution need to rally around and reward those honest journalists who are the backbone of transparent despite its intentions government.

    Subscribe to the NYT and Wash Po. Watch CNN. Support the Guardian and BBC. Applaud when a reporter stands up to Sean Spicer or Kelly Ann Conjob. Reward investigative journalism. Keep Bannon under a 24/7 microscope.

    Let’s put our money where our minds are.

    Civil War would be to give up on democracy. Civil disobedience as described by the Declaration of Independence is part of it. The bright light of truth can and will outshine fake news.

    Remember “1984”.

  16. Pete,

    Is it an oversimplification to still believe that democracy can work as long as it’s built on a sound foundation of Journalism?

    Yes. ACTIVISM ENGINE is a fresh start.

  17. Pete,

    Like you said on your terrific website about protecting the environment, “The good news is that there’s no doubt that we can. But like what won the world wars we need extreme focus on the strategy and tactical solutions for every step along the way.”

  18. “Civil” wars are to be avoided but if we are to have some form of civil commotion, what will be the Mason-Dixon demarcation line? I think, geographically, that it will be a rural-urban one and will be fought over false beliefs based on propaganda framing. The “war,” if that designation fits civil disorder, is in reality still one of slavery and any such “war” should be between Wall Street slaveowners who have nicely succeeded in enforcing wage inequality versus the rest of us. If median wages as adjusted for inflation had risen in tandem with the Dow since Powell’s infamous memo in 1971, just imagine what our minimum wage scale would look like these days with a full employment of our workforce and a booming demand for the economy’s goods and services!

    In any event, before we have civil commotion, let’s first identify the “enemy.” It is not Trump voters; they, like the rest of us, are victims. It is the rich and corporate class and such political perverts as Bannon and Trump who if not rejected who will do us in. These are the “enemies of the people,” not the press and other guardians of democracy. Let’s not have a misguided brawl with fellow victims; let’s brawl with the properly identified “enemies of the people.”

  19. Gerald,

    Let’s not have a misguided brawl with fellow victims; let’s brawl with the properly identified “enemies of the people.”

    You are absolutely right. But we are both attorneys who have successfully brawled with “political perverts” like Bannon and Trump. Unfortunately, most people, almost all, see them as untouchables and divert their energies elsewhere after unleashing some of their ineffective pent- up anger.

    I don’t see any PEACEFUL resolution unless we can deal with this problem. So far I haven’t seen an answer within the U.S.

  20. I was in my early thirties and in the Army when President Reagan was elected in 1980. This is when I started to notice presidential budgets. That year Reagan proposed a large increase for the military, I like many of my peers we were excited. My 1st Sergeant sat me down and told me not to get so excited, he said watch what happens to the presidents budget when it hits the congress, especially the house. The presidents budget is always dumped in the trash can as soon as it hits the house. The president may submit a budget but the congress spends the money and all spending bills must start in the house. I like what Norman Goldman says, “The president proposes, the congress disposes.” Trump may propose many things in his “wish list” budget, but wait and see what comes out of the congress.

  21. Gerald,

    As you probably know, It takes more than intelligence to effectively deal with these “political perverts.” You have to be aware of all their potential moves or MO, if not you’re dead.

    I remember back in my high school days in the 50’s in Jacksonville, Lehman Huff was the top scorer in basketball in the State of Florida. He was a senior and I was a junior. One day when we were practicing, Coach Warner said to me, “I don’t want you guarding Lehman anymore, you know all his moves, it’s not fair, he’ll never score.” He said it to me like I was cheating. I guess in a way it was. Lehman was also our star baseball pitcher and I was #2 and his reliever. I always watched him like a “hawk.” Should I have apologized?

    Nevertheless, it takes more than intelligence to guard against “political perverts.” You better have A+ experience and understand all their moves. That’s exactly what the great political scientist Ernst Cassirer said in his book “The Myth of the State.”

  22. “It is beyond the power of philosophy to destroy the political myths. A myth is in a sense invulnerable. It is impervious to rational arguments; it cannot be refuted by syllogisms. But philosophy can do us another important service. It can make us UNDERSTAND THE ADVERSARY. In order to fight an enemy you must know him [Sun Tzu said the same thing]. That is one of the first principles of a sound strategy. To know him means not only to know his defects and weaknesses; its means to know his strength. All of us have been liable to underrate this strength. When we first heard of the political myths [Nazism] we found them so absurd and incongruous, so fantastic and ludicrous that we could hardly be prevailed upon to take them seriously. By now it has become clear to all of us that this was a great mistake. We should not commit the same error a SECOND TIME. We should carefully study the ORIGIN, the STRUCTURE, the METHODS, and the TECHNIQUE of the political myths. We should see the adversary face to face in order to KNOW HOW TO COMBAT HIM.

    “The Myth of the State” by Ernst Cassirer (Garden City New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1946, 1955) p. 373.

    Ernst Cassirer was born in Breslau on July 28, 1874, and studied at the University of Berlin and the University of Marburg. He taught at the University of Berlin and then Hamburg until his departure from Germany in 1932 to accept an appointment at Oxford. In 1941, Cassirer came to America to teach at Yale, where he remained until 1944, The last year of his life was spent as a visiting professor at Columbia University. He died in New York on April 13, 1945.

  23. The idea of fighting back against the Trumpet and Republicans is fine. All the marches, sit-ins and activism will just be laughed off by the Republicans. When you go to the ballot box in 2018, if there is not viable opposition to a Republican – so what.

    Fox News asked Americans their opinions of a number of political leaders and politically relevant organizations. Guess who had the highest favorable rating – Bernie Sanders. Among all groups Sanders had a net favorability rating of + 29%. Sanders net favorability among Democrats was + 77%. Among Independents Bernie’s favorability was a whooping + 41%.

    Sanders put it this way when asked about the Democratic Party prospects in the future – “There are some people in the Democratic Party who want to maintain the status quo. They would rather go down with the Titanic so long as they have first-class seats.” Side Bar – Nancy Pelosi comes to my mind.

    The Corporate Democratic Establishment and their media shills are still harping on the Russians. I did not notice a vast influx of Russians voting here in the USA.

  24. Today’s subject matter seems to have raised the hackles of a higher percentage of Sheila’s readers. Are they all Democrats? Probably. Are they all dissatisfied with the antics of the Fake President Donald Trump? Probably. Are they all ready to mount a “dump Trump” war right now? Aha. This is where the reactions are all over the board.

    Some readers want to start an all-out battle two years from now. That’s too long. I’ll turn 90 in two days, and the thought of having a full-scale idiot in the White House is making me feel older than that. What can we do right now? Immediately?

    Donate a lot of money? Bull feathers. Write a lot of negative stuff about the negative people who are ruining our lives? We’re already doing that. Tell me something logical to do and I’ll help you raise an army. It may be old, but it’ll be vocal.

  25. Paul,

    “We’re already doing that. Tell me something logical to do and I’ll help you raise an army. It may be old, but it’ll be vocal.”

    Help me unmask the deception of the Trump/Pence/Bannon junta and the MOVEMENT they are leading in much the same way as Professor Friedrich Wilhelm Foerster accomplished in 1928 in front of the League of Nations. See a short description of Foerster’s success with a similar German movement at my website:

  26. To All,

    Our ability to effectively MOBILIZE against our common enemy, at this vital juncture in our country’s history, on a scale of zero to 100, is ZERO.

Comments are closed.