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Clinton and the End of Welfare

 It has been three years since President Clinton has signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act (PRWOA), which replaced AFDC with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).  The Republican controlled Congress pushed two welfare reform bills that President Clinton vetoed.  When he finally signed PRWOA, President Clinton received a lot of criticism from many left leaning Democrats – even three members from within his administration were not pleased.  Many Democrats argued that PRWOA was too harsh on the poor and would hurt those on welfare more than it benefited them.  President Clinton would not sign any bill that would hurt the poor.  In fact, when President Clinton was running for office in 1992, he pledged to “end welfare as we know it”.  He did not want people to rely on welfare; he wanted “to make welfare a second chance, not a way of life” (Clinton).  PRWOA provided block grants to states to assist the poor.  About 16.5 billion dollars would be given to states each year to create their own welfare system, as long as they follow specific federal requirements.


Since PRWOA has been signed, more welfare recipients have found jobs and are now working.  According to data from the Department of Health and Human Services, “the percentage of working recipients reached an all-time high in fiscal year 1999 at 33 percent, compared to less than 7 percent in 1992 and 11 percent in 1996.” PRWOA led many welfare recipients to find jobs.  “UPS hired 52,000; CVS/pharmacy hired 45,000, 60% of whom remain” (Wolf).

There have also been increased measures to establish paternity at birth, and child support collections have increased 68% from 1992 to 1997 (Administration for Children and Families).  The child poverty rate has declined from “22.7 percent in 1993 to 18.9 percent in 1998 – the biggest five-year drop in nearly 30 years” (Administration for Children and Families).  With such promising statistics, we can see that President Clinton made the right choice in signing PRWOA into law in 1996.

President Clinton took other measures to ensure the success of welfare reform.  He doubled “the earned-income tax credit in 1993 for lower-income workers; the 1997 Balanced Budget Act, which included $3 billion to move long-term welfare recipients and low-income, noncustodial fathers into jobs; the Access to Jobs initiative, which helped communities create innovative transportation services to enable former welfare recipients and other low-income workers to get to their new jobs; and the welfare-to-work tax credit, which provided tax incentives to encourage businesses to hire long-term welfare recipients” (Clinton).  In 1997, he even increased the minimum wage and doubled “federal financing for child care” (Clinton).

In just three years, the president has done a great deal to end the dependence on welfare handouts by creating work incentives.  This bi-partisan effort has done a great deal to change the welfare system for the better.  Just from looking at some of the statistics in the past few years, PRWOA is proving to be a success.

The White House,

September, 1999


Administration for Children and Families. “Third Annual Report to Congress – Executive Summary.” Administration for Children and Families. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 21 May 2010. Web. 24 Apr. 2012. <;.

Clinton, Bill. “How We Ended Welfare, Together.” The New York Times. 22 Aug. 2006. Web. 24 Apr. 2012. <;.

Wolf, Richard. “How Welfare Reform Changed America.” USA Today. Gannett, 18 July 2006. Web. 24 Apr. 2012. <;.

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Reaganomics and Welfare

When President Reagan first took office in the early 1981, the country was facing an economic recession.  The President and his team worked swiftly to propose plans for economic recovery.  As a part of the President’s administration I helped with the planning.  We concluded that government spending had to be cut while simultaneously decreasing income taxes.  “Reaganomics” would have a trickle down effect: the tax cuts that would benefit the wealthy would trickle down and benefit the poor.

ImageIn order to decrease government spending, the President needed to cut funding for unsuccessful programs.  Many of the community action programs of the 1960s did not operate as originally intended and some were seen as failures.  President Reagan decided to withdraw federal funding for many programs, but “responsibility for efforts such as Aid to Families with Dependent Children and school lunches was shifted to individual states” (PBS).  By giving these programs back to the states, each state can mold the programs to fit the needs of their constituents.  A federally funded social service program must be the same throughout all states, and might not address all the problems each individual state has.  Now, the state governments can address their state’s most important social issues through their own state run programs.  Even President Reagan believed that state run programs would be more beneficial: “this will make welfare less costly and more responsive to genuine need because it will be designed and administered closer to the grass roots of people it serves” (Reagan).  To avoid any problems, the federal government agreed to fund the programs for ten years during its transition to the state level.  This shift to the local level “would save 25 percent in administrative costs” (Roberts).

In his 1982 State of the Union speech, President Reagan addressed those critics who believed decreasing government spending would hurt the poor.  To reiterate his speech, “the federal government will subsidize 95 million meals every day” (Reagan) and will continue funding the Head Start program.  Just last year, the federal government announced it would fund the Medicaid program in addition to the Medicare program.

The First Lady has been urging the President to create an anti-drug program.  As a result, we have been doing a lot of research on the drug problem in America.  Since drugs are a hazard on the community, especially in urban cities, an anti-drug program will only help the community.  From the way our research is going, it looks as though we will be drafting program details soon and a will hopefully have the program ready to begin in the next year.

The White House

February 1985


“Domestic Politics.” American Experience. PBS. Web. 22 Apr. 2012. <;.

Reagan, Ronald. “1982 State of the Union Address.” Address. The Capitol, Washington, DC. Jan. 1982. American Experience. PBS. Web. 20 Apr. 2012. <;.

Roberts, Steven V. “FIGHTING OVER BLOCK GRANTS CATCHES STATES IN THE MIDDLE.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 02 Aug. 1981. Web. 16 Apr. 2012. <;.

Photo credit: Getty Images

An Insider’s Perspective: A Look Behind the Anti-Poverty Programs of Kennedy and Johnson

As the Deputy Chief of Staff to the President, I was fortunate enough to work in the White House for both President Kennedy’s and President Johnson’s administrations.

Creating anti-poverty programs were never at the forefront of President Kennedy’s administrative agenda as foreign policy issues were a more pressing concern.  While on the campaign trail, Kennedy visited the poor Appalachia in West Virginia.  “As president his main antipoverty measure before 1963 was the creation of the Appalachian Regional Commission” (Lemann, 131).  Kennedy then assigned Walter Heller, head of the Council of Economic Advisors, to investigate the creation of more anti-poverty programs.

Many of his advisors, including myself, were preoccupied with maintaining voters’ support and making sure our policies would not cost us votes during the next presidential election.  This was the case when President Kennedy first attempted to propose anti-poverty legislation in the early 1960s.  After careful examination, his most prominent advisors believed that creating anti-poverty programs would bring in more votes: “a poverty program might help pull in votes- not from Northern blacks, who were going to vote Democratic anyway, but from good-hearted suburban Republican Protestant church women who might be wooed away from a moderate Republican presidential candidate like Nelson Rockefeller” (Lemann, 132).  Kennedy faced opposing viewpoints from many politicians who did not believe that poverty was an important social issue.

The creation of the President’s Committee on Juvenile Delinquency was the first step in creating anti-poverty programs.  It was given the nickname “community action”.  These agencies “would operate at the ground level” (Lemann 133), would be in poor neighborhoods, would provide a wide array of social services, and “would plan its activities based on what the poor people actually wanted from government, rather than what bureaucrats in Washington thought they needed” (Lemann, 133).  Once these agencies were created, they did not function as planned.  By the mid 1960s mayors complained about that the federal government maintained too much control over the community action agencies.  The bureaucrats in Washington had prevailed and controlled the operations of the community action agencies.

Since many in Kennedy’s campaign did not support his choice to select Lyndon Johnson as his Vice Presidential candidate, many were not pleased that Johnson was sworn in as President after Kennedy’s assassination.  Johnson inherited Kennedy’s plans on poverty policy and wanted to take that and civil rights policy a step further.  In his 1964 State of the Union address, Johnson formally declared a “war on poverty.”

Within a year of the start of some of the programs, we received notices of complaints, especially from the cities’ mayors.  The mayor of Baltimore, Theodore McKeldin wrote a letter to President Johnson addressing the problems cities are facing with community action programs.  He wrote that federal bureaucrats placed too many unrealistic expectations on the programs without consulting the needs of local government (Lemann, 165).  Later that year, we received word that more mayors were dissatisfied with federal management of community action programs.  Our original intent of keeping bureaucrats out of community action programs had failed and the White House had to find a way to fix that problem.  The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) was created in 1965 to better address the needs of urban cities.

Soon after the creation of the HUD, President Johnson announced he would be sending more troops to Vietnam.  The political tides were shifting as more Americans began to pay attention to the war instead of community action programs, which were now being associated as “black programs”.

The programs that came about during the “war on poverty” started a positive process to help the poor citizens of this country.  As President Johnson and the Democratic Party leave the White House, I worry how anti-poverty programs will proceed under president-elect Richard Nixon.  President Johnson did not care about losing votes so long as he did what he believed was right – which we have seen in regards to Civil Rights and the war on poverty.  I do hope that the next administration continues fighting the war on poverty.  However, with the war in Vietnam taking precedence in the media, I doubt that will be the case.

Washington, D.C.

January 1969



Crenson, Matthew. “Organizational Factors in Citizen Participation.” Journal of Politics. 36.2 (1974): 356-378.

Lemann, Nicholas. The Promised Land: The Great Black Migration and How It Changed America.New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991.