And the Winner on Welfare Reform Is….Mitt Romney?

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.

4 thoughts on “And the Winner on Welfare Reform Is….Mitt Romney?

  1. Too bad reforms weren’t passed when Romney was gov, we could’ve saved millions that was paid out due to fraud – the auditor has proved that already. That money could have gone to those truly in need. But instead of smart legislation, we’ve got “feel good” policies as not to hurt anyones feelings. Except the taxpayer of course. Let’s get real, the only reason why we are finally talking about any much needed welfare reform is due to the tax increases that are coming our way.

    • Hi Patricia – thank you for writing. It is interesting to me that when Governor Romney proposed the ideas I wrote about, he was not concerned about fraud, but instead was concerned that recipients of welfare who were not required to work were being deprived of what he referred to as the “dignity” of work.

      The issue of welfare fraud has emerged only recently. An Auditor’s report from 2005 shows that most of the problems discussed in the 2013 report had already been identified, and back then, they caused little concern among the public.

      I wish it were true that a lot of savings could be had by eliminating welfare fraud. But since the entire welfare program amounts to less than one percent of the state budget, and even welfare’s harshest critics do not believe that fraud is the rule rather than the exception, sadly, investing lots more money in preventing fraud is not going to help our bottom line. Meanwhile, most of the people living in poverty in Massachusetts today are not getting any welfare benefits — they and their children are simply poor.

  2. Sorry but I disagree with you. I call over 25 million dollars a lot of money, and thats the tip of the iceberg. I can tell you disagreed with Romney’s stance and wonder if you also disagree with the “dignity” of work perspective, and why. Welfare fraud is not new. I have written my state rep over the past few years every time he voted against any reform. Now, suddenly they are all for reform. The only difference is now we are going to be asked to fork over more hard earned money for what? Until those in power can make an effort to avoid wasteful and unnecessary spending, then yes, many of us will question all areas where we can. It is our right.

    Again, in this economy millions of dollars can help quite a bit. It’s too bad some like to think that since it’s only 1% of the budget it’s not worth it. Must be nice to sit where you can throw this kind of money aside. Most of us cant. I got an idea, leave the partisianship nonsense out of it and let’s do the best for ALL citizens of the commonwealth, not just the ones that adhere to party lines. Until then, we’re all just wasting our time.

    • Thanks for writing back. I sure call $25 million a lot of money, too. What I was trying to suggest was that it still wouldn’t make much of a difference where the difference between what the state is spending and what it is taking in every year is well over a billion dollars.

      Certainly part of making up that difference is making sure we are not spending money wastefully. But it seems to me that we’re not looking for it everywhere, just in certain places, where the people involved are mostly poor. Here’s an example: the big drug company GlaxoSmithKline admitted that it charged our state’s Medicaid program too much for drugs and agreed to repay $36 million. But you don’t hear much call for more investigations of waste, fraud and abuse by big drug companies, even after they admit to it. At least I don’t.

      On the “dignity” of work issue, I think work does bring dignity and self-respect to people. But I didn’t agree with Governor Romney that taking away a very small amount of money from very poor people who have disabilities and making them work for it instead was necessarily the best way to reach that goal.

      Let’s do the best for ALL citizens of the commonwealth. Totally agree with you on that one.

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