Bill Clinton’s welfare-reform bill is just the latest of the former president’s achievements that successor Democrats have repudiated.
President Clinton was euphoric in August 1996 when he signed historic legislation changing how the nation’s federal family welfare program worked.
He had three reasons to be pleased. First, Clinton’s action vindicated a campaign promise to “end welfare as we know it.” Second, it introduced what he viewed as a sound means of helping destitute families while eliminating incentives not to work. And third, his signing of the bill guaranteed his re-election.
Among other things, the legislation ended a 61-year guarantee of cash assistance to every eligible poor family with children. It further transferred control of major anti-poverty programs to the states, along with the duty to fund them.
“In place of an open-ended federal program, cash welfare will be converted to block grants to the states,” news reports stated. “For the first time, poor families will be limited to a maximum of five years of federal cash assistance. Recipients will be required to work within two years of the time they sign up for welfare.”
Clinton’s action was a big deal, the end of a lengthy and sometimes-contentious debate with a Republican-controlled Congress over how to address the vexing question. It was, to say the least, a much-covered news story.
That’s just one reason why it’s odd that the media paid so little attention a couple weeks ago when Congress passed and President Joe Biden signed legislation repealing one of Clinton’s most prominent reforms.
The repeal was included in Biden’s $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package, one of many non-virus-related provisions in the massive spending bill. It includes new assistance to parents as well as temporary child tax credits that Biden wants to make permanent.
It expands the current $2,000 child tax credit into what are called “advanceable and refundable tax credits” worth $3,600 for each child up to age 6 and $3,000 for older children up to age 17.
The legislation requires the IRS to pay out the credit in advance, essentially direct monthly payments that could arrive as soon as this summer.
In addition to providing the tax credits to working families, as is now the case, it also extends them to non-working families. The credits would phase out for individuals making more than $75,000 and married couples making $150,000.
Supporters of the measure predict this vast expansion of federal spending will put a significant dent in child poverty. Let’s hope so.
But Americans have heard these kind of grandiose promises many times before over the past 60 years, and the results have been disappointing.
So here we go again — a vast new welfare entitlement characterized as a tax credit and billed as a miracle cure.
Everyone should keep their fingers crossed that this latest experiment works. But no one should hold their breath waiting for a dramatic improvement to a complicated issue that can’t be solved with money alone.