by Jeremy Leaming
To help states more effectively provide support to individuals while they seek employment, the Obama administration is allowing state officials to seek waivers of some requirements of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program.
But The New York Times reports the administration’s move has stirred consternation among some conservative lawmakers. In a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services, Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), complained that Congress did not intend for states to be provided “waivers of TANF work requirements.”
In a July 12 statement, HHS Acting Assistant Secretary George Sheldon says the Social Security Act provides the department the “authority to grant states waivers of certain TANF provisions for the purpose of testing new approaches to meeting the goals of the TANF statute. The Secretary is interested in using her authority to allow states to test alternative and innovative strategies, policies, and procedures that are designed to improve employment outcomes for needy families.”
The Times, however, notes that conservative lobbying groups, which have fought to eliminate a social safety net, primarily by supporting economic policy that starves government of revenue by slashing taxes on the nation’s wealthiest, are decrying the administration’s move as detrimental to a program that has allegedly “lifted millions out of poverty.”
Such a claim is as bizarre as it is laughable.
The number of people now in poverty is larger than at any time since the Great Depression. As many economists have noted the nation’s middle class is shrinking, poverty is growing, and the only people who are faring better are the superrich.
As Columbia Business School Professor Joseph Stiglitz wrote last year, all of the nation’s economic growth “in recent decades – and more – has gone to those at the top. In terms of income equality, America lags behind any country in the old, ossified Europe that President George used to deride Among our closest counterparts are Russia with it oligarchs and Iran.”
Conservative lobbying groups and right-wing lawmakers seem only interested in serving the needs of the super wealthy. And serving those needs has led to a weakened social safety net and growing economic inequality.
Peter Edelman, a law professor at Georgetown University, details in his recent book, So Rich, So Poor, a nation that has striven to weaken its social safety net, writing that “the bottom has dropped out of our safety net. This is the most urgent single problem we face.”
Edelman (pictured), chair of the ACS Board, told The Times that the charges leveled at the TANF waivers are “ridiculous.”
He continued, “This is an advisory that is all about making it easier to get a job, which is what the Republicans wanted. To say that this is somehow against the concept of TANF is bizarre, because what we have here are restrictions that Congress enacted that, on the ground, make it harder to get from here to there.”
For more discussion on economic inequality see video of the opening plenary of the ACS 2012 Convention, in which Edelman participated.