The Great American Welfare Lab Wisconsin has cut its rolls by half. Many former recipients are working, but where have the rest of them gone? By Adam Cohen/TIME (4/21/97)
A Blue-Ribbon County Marquette County, Wisconsin, sheds its welfare load. By Adam Cohen/TIME (4/21/97)
Let Them Eat Birthday Cake Clinton's welfare reform dismays the President's favorite poverty scholar By Jack E. White/TIME (9/2/96)
Ripping Up Welfare With not a little drama, Clinton grudgingly approves the G.O.P. bill, and the U.S. starts a vast and risky experiment By George J. Church/TIME (8/12/96)
Should Congress restore welfare funds for legal immigrants?
With those words, President Bill Clinton signed welfare reform legislation largely authored by congressional Republicans, making good on his now-famous promise to "end welfare as we know it." The new law replaced the 61-year-old federal guarantee of aid to the poor with a system of block grants to the states that imposes work requirements and a 5-year lifetime limit on benefits, while denying aid to all immigrants, legal or otherwise.
So is the debate over, poverty vanquished, time to hit the beach?
Unfortunately, no. While the new law (entitled the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996) will save the federal government a great deal of money and is a milestone in the decades-old debate over welfare, it really was, as Clinton noted, just the beginning of state-level experimentation which ultimately will determine the success or failure of welfare reform.
Will It Work? Already the states have begun grappling with the new law in different ways. And Washington has already begun to tinker, with budget negotiators agreeing May 2 to restore $13 billion in aid to legal immigrants and expanded food stamp benefits.
As events unfold, a host of unresolved questions are being slugged out in Washington and in state capitals. Among the uncertainties:
Welfare backers say that jobs are available, and that faced with new incentives, former welfare recipients can achieve self-sufficiency. Indeed, some analysts are already pointing to an 18-percent drop in welfare caseloads during the last year as early evidence the law is working.
"Preliminary reports show that, in every state but Hawaii, welfare caseloads have dropped," wrote the editors of The New Republic magazine in March. "So far it seems the logic behind welfare reform was right: now that the incentives have changed, welfare recipients are making better decisions."
But this experiment in federalism will take not just months but years to assess. As it unfolds, we can expect new issues to appear, and old arguments to be rehashed.
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