Waiving the Work Requirement Reverses Welfare Reform

President Barack Obama’s recent decision to relieve work requirements in welfare reform raises the stakes in this year’s election and confirms that our nation is at an historic fork in the road.

Tommy Thompson - Welfare Reform

President Barack Obama’s recent decision to relieve work requirements in welfare reform raises the stakes in this year’s election and confirms that our nation is at an historic fork in the road. 

One road leads us further toward becoming a nation of dependents, with burgeoning debt and taxation used to finance a behemoth social welfare state. The resulting stagnant economy would resemble southern Europe, and the United States’ standing in the world would be severely compromised.

The president’s leftist ideological rampage through his first term has made this road all too visible.

The other road is one of innovation, empowerment and growth, where we depend not on government, but on families, entrepreneurs and communities.  Where our policy decisions are governed by our values – honesty, hard work and living within our means.  And the United States has enormous respect and influence in the world, fostering a new era of peace and democracy.

Last week, the Obama administration issued “guidance” to states to waive the work requirement for the first time since the landmark legislation was signed into law in 1996. It is not an exaggeration to say the president’s decision to hand out checks without requiring work is blatantly calling the question on what kind of nation we will be.

Wisconsin is the birthplace of welfare reform.  Working with a bipartisan group of legislators and employers across the state, we ended welfare and created a path to employment through job training and strong work requirements.

By the time I left office in 2001, our welfare rolls had declined by 95 percent.  We also cut taxes, capped government spending and made Wisconsin an economic powerhouse that created an unprecedented 740,000 jobs.  Rewarding work rather than merely handing out entitlement checks was essential to Wisconsin’s economic revival.

In 1996, Speaker Newt Gingrich and Majority Leader Bob Dole used Wisconsin as the model for the landmark federal legislation, later signed by President Clinton. But last week’s announcement by the Obama Administration severely undermines the essential premise of Wisconsin’s model and should be viewed as an insult by every Wisconsin citizen.

It is also a disturbing harbinger of what will happen if Obama is re-elected and Republicans don’t recapture the majority in the U.S Senate.

Wisconsin’s model is based on a simple premise: Work is inherently good, leading to self respect, opportunities for growth and a rewarding life.  Handing out taxpayer money to welfare recipients without work requirements creates generations of government dependents.  The practice is morally indefensible, economically disastrous and an affront to hard-working taxpayers.

Abandoning work requirements will return our nation to the days of rampant welfare abuse and incentivize an underground economy where abusers take a government check while also engaging in illicit commerce of all kinds.

This is not to say welfare recipients are evil.  On the contrary, former welfare recipients in Wisconsin showed great tenacity in learning new skills and working hard when we ended welfare.  Countless workers who escaped the cycle of dependency thanked me for giving them a pathway to work.

But it is human nature to behave the way one is rewarded for behaving.  If one is paid not to work, one will tend not to work.

I learned this fundamental lesson in economics as a child while polishing eggs in my father’s grocery store.  Had he paid me to sit and read comics, those eggs would have never been polished.

The president’s decision to gut the 1996 welfare reform law is just the latest evidence of the fork in the road we face this election year.  Obamacare, for example, is a clear government takeover of one of the largest sectors in our economy, as well as an intrusion into our own health care decision-making.  Americans are just now beginning to fully understand the vastness of the “Affordable Care Act” and its threat to our economy.

And we were recently reminded by the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on Obamacare that we cannot assume the courts will overturn bad laws.  We must elect people we can trust to keep government in check and to honor our basic values as a country.

This stark choice of two radically different paths puts the future of our nation squarely in the hands of voters.

The president has created clarity in this election cycle and it is critical we not go backwards towards a failed government program that undermined our American values of hard work and freedom.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Bren July 19, 2012 at 07:28 PM
I agree. Walmart could afford to self-insure its employees and provide a family sustaining wage to each full-time employee but chooses not to do so. This company is the exemplar of amoral capitalism. Recruiting people with disabilities (and hiring a very few) for tax breaks, strong-arming American companies to move factories and jobs overseas to keep their own profits higher, steering new employees to their state's medical assistance programs instead of offering decent insurance, the list goes on. Taking advantage of people on Food Share is cruel. Wages should be paid based on competence, related experience, and specific criteria of the job.
James R Hoffa July 19, 2012 at 08:08 PM
@Bren - There you go again - blaming the drug dealer (WalMart) instead of blaming the true culprits, the drug addicts (greedy American consumers) that give WalMart all of its power. Without the mass of consumers that patronize their stores, WalMart would have no power.
St. Swithin July 19, 2012 at 08:26 PM
@JRH, So in your highly partisan view it's OK to have a hissy fit over a non-issue with phrases like "the president’s decision to hand out checks without requiring work" when 1. It wasn't the president's decision 2. States are under no pressure to apply for this waiver, nor is it guaranteed they will be granted a waiver. Of course then you use the hyperbolic phrase "arrogant disregard for rule of law" so I should expect nothing more from you. Since Mickey-D's has all those spiffy job openings in Wisconsin then we don't need to apply for the waiver, right? No problem - end of story. Thompson is blowing smoke and so are you.
James R Hoffa July 19, 2012 at 09:20 PM
@St. Swithin - If a waiver is granted, that's exactly what will happen, so I fail to see exactly how Tommy's having "a hissy fit over a non-issue." 1. It was the President's administration. Your side is claiming that the buck stopped with Romney because he was listed as the CEO of Bain for 3 years after he allegedly left the company to run the Olympics, but now you're trying to say that the buck doesn't stop with Obama when he's still clearly the top guy not only on paper but also in decision making capacity? Come on - that's a bit hypocritical, don't you think?!?! 2. I don't see where Tommy claimed that the waivers would be granted upon request - can you please quote to that part of his op-ed. And Obama has never used incendiary language or misleading ads in any of his campaigns - yeah, right! Ummm.... the federal government addresses issues that have effect and impact outside our state - you do realize this, don't you? It's not like the federal taxes collected from Wisconsin are only ever spent in Wisconsin or for the state's own benefit. It's about the direction of the country as a whole, which our senators will be able to participate in voting on. That's kind of the way the federal government works. Did I really need to explain that to you? So no blowing of smoke - try again!
Bob Pulvermacher July 20, 2012 at 01:36 PM
I have no issue with the work requirement when there are actually jobs/ work available... but in case you haven't looked lately Tommy- there aren't many jobs available in Wisconsin these days. And, until Scotty Walker goes somewhere else in his rock star quest, or the controlling republicans decide to change their failed "trickle down" job creation policies- there won't be any jobs for people.


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