On Welfare, Charlie Baker Won’t Take Yes for an Answer

Update September 10, 2014: The Baker-Polito ticket is out with a new (post-primary) ad. It’s chock full of old ideas like “let’s require work for welfare.”

ORIGINAL POST: May 7, 2014

The Baker-Polito ticket announced yesterday that it’s going to spend this week campaigning on (drumroll)–welfare reform. (The press release is here on the Baker campaign website, under the “Travels with Charlie” tab.)

You might have thought that Baker would just take a victory lap on this issue. After all, he deserves much of the credit for the 1994 welfare reform law signed by his boss, Governor William Weld, that instituted a two-year time limit on benefits and mandatory work requirements for families whose youngest child was school aged. These changes, the Baker press release boasts, resulted in “a reduction in the welfare caseload of 50% from approximately 104,000 to approximately 48,000 due to reforms which got people back to work.”

The law has not changed much in 20 years. In fact, by one of the measures important to the Baker campaign, it has become even more strict: it now requires the parents of children as young as two years to work (in the Weld-Baker years, parents of school-aged children were required to work).

The low caseloads Baker attained have continued, too. During a period of years that includes the worst recession in our lifetimes, when a spike in the welfare caseload would not have been surprising, only a very modest (10 percent or so) increase occurred. Today the caseload is back in Baker territory, around 48,000 families.

So, you might have thought that Baker would be touting these stats as proof of his reformer chops instead of devoting an entire week to touring the state to bemoan the “culture of dependence” (yes, the same one he eradicated two decades ago). But then you would have failed to appreciate the important role that welfare has played of late in helping the Republicans distract the public from their desolate party agenda. For this week, at a minimum, they’re back to their fixation on this program that amounts to less than one percent of the state budget. Welfare must be reformed again so that, as the Baker campaign says, “it provides a true safety net for those who need it.”

Really? “A true safety net…?” The fact is that welfare grants have lost 40 percent of their value since 1989 and are farther than ever from being sufficient to lift a family out of poverty. An increase in the grant amount would be required just to keep up with 20 years of inflation, but Baker is not including any increase in his recommendations.

“…for those who need it?” Certainly not for all of them and far fewer than when Baker was last in charge. Back then, 92 percent of the families living in poverty in Massachusetts were receiving welfare. By 2010, that number had dropped to 45 percent. In other words, more people are living in poverty in Massachusetts today without welfare assistance, but the Baker campaign seems concerned solely with the “integrity” of the program.

Candidate Steve Grossman was quick to criticize Baker yesterday for trying to score cheap political points instead of offering real solutions to poverty. It will be interesting to see if and how his Democratic competitors respond and if in 2014 welfare rancor is finally exhausting itself as a campaign issue.

6 thoughts on “On Welfare, Charlie Baker Won’t Take Yes for an Answer

    • Martha has fought to restore the regulations against age discrimination, I applaud that since I was 58 when my employer laid me off and the 8 other employees laid off with me were ALL 55 or older due to budget cuts, Yet they refused to lay off the managers, who were older than us, made more money than us. If they were trying to save money, shouldn’t they have gotten rid of the higher wage workers, no, why, they had political connections, plain and simple, they were related to people at city hall. what a damn shame. I was let go even though my job as a career advisor was to place customers into the job market which I was very, very successful at, still it didn’t matter because I was not related to anyone at City Hall. I wonder if Charlie would hire me back since the people I helped employ were Welfare recipients. I bet he wouldn’t. Seems to me his mission should also be to go after the fathers of children who abandoned them and left them with nothing so the mother has to fend for and care for her children with only the very small amounts of money that Welfare allows. If he wants to stop welfare fraud go after the men who leave the women and children with nothing, make them pay child support like they should have to and maybe these women wouldn’t have to depend on a meagher welfare check. Charlie be a SWEETHEART and get the men to pay for their abandonments.

      • Hi Karen – thanks for reading the blog and for commenting. On your last point, under federal welfare law, anyone receiving welfare who isn’t married has to “cooperate” in identifying the child’s other parent. The government then tries to locate this parent and collect child support from him or her. Of any money the government collects, only $50 per month goes to the parent receiving welfare; the government keeps the rest.

  1. It has been surprising to the workforce development world that Baker has not used the huge success of his welfare reform initiative to point out his Democratic successors’ weak efforts to sustain service levels for public assistance recipients. Allocations for line item #4401-1000 that funds the DTA’s Employment Services Programs have been reduced from over $32 million to under $4 million. In our Gateway city the employment program’s service slots have gone from 397 enrollments to 81 in FY’13. There has been no mention of the Commonwealth’s poor performance to achieve Federal caseload reduction and employment outcome requirements that places us in the lower third of ALL the states. Some positive movement at the House level is showing an increase to $10 million for the ESP line item, we will see if the Senate truly supports this part of welfare reform. Thanks for your advocacy Hester. Paul.

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