Yesterday, leaders in the State Senate announced the welfare reform proposal that Senate President Therese Murray has been promising for several months. “We want to shake up the system, and give people some hope, too,” she said by way of introduction.
Indeed. And among the people who may get some hope out of this bill is former Governor Mitt Romney. The Senate bill resurrects two proposals that both the House and Senate expressly rejected when Governor Romney proposed them back in 2005.
The first of Romney’s proposals would have adopted a stricter standard for what qualifies as a “disability,” with the result that more recipients of welfare benefits would be required to work and would become subject to the 24-month time limit on benefits. The second would have changed the law exempting women in their third trimester of pregnancy from the welfare work requirement and would have reimposed the work requirement on women who left a job during their third trimester without good cause. These proposals were defeated (Globe $) in the Senate by a vote of 31 to 7 (Roll Call # 147) and in the House by a vote of 131 to 20.
This year’s Senate bill would adopt Romney’s stricter disability standard and would actually go even farther than Romney did in requiring pregnant women to work. It would limit the exemption from the work requirement to women in their last month of pregnancy and to women in their last trimester who can provide a doctor’s statement that a medical condition prevents them from working.
How to account for the Senate’s plan to change direction eight years later? The corrosive effect of the endlessly erroneous claims that both welfare and welfare fraud are rampant (remember that fewer than two percent of the state’s residents receive this assistance) has played a part. As a policy matter, forcing more of the adults who receive welfare into the labor market makes even less sense now than it did in 2005. Our unemployment rate now is one-third higher than it was than (6.4 percent compared to 4.8 percent).
In any event, this is probably the best news Mitt Romney has had since people finally stopped talking about his car elevator.