The perfect time for additional welfare reform

By Dale E. Landrith Sr. | Jan 11, 2018

Welfare reform – what is it? The progressive liberal portrays welfare reform as punishing folks by taking away their monetary help with food and housing. The conservative viewpoint is that nonworking folks who are unable to provide for themselves deserve help and those who are able-bodied should be encouraged to find employment and enter the workforce to become self-sustaining.

It is puzzling to understand why the idea of providing motivation to find a job and become a productive member of society is so distasteful to some. It has long been the American way, and certainly the Maine way, to earn a paycheck with a diligent work ethic and to provide for oneself and family. When I was transferred to Maine from Massachusetts to manage a business, I was absolutely amazed by the work ethic of its people. I was surrounded by people who showed up for work early, their honesty absolutely amazing, and very seldom missed a day of work. That seems to have changed.

What has brought about that change? Years of dependence on government welfare benefits has contributed greatly to reducing the desire to work when one can stay home (or somewhere) and have food and housing provided. This dependence on government has now become multi-generational, to where many folks have been raised in homes where such dependence is deemed normal and expected. It does not have to be so. There are untold success stories of those who have toiled at multiple jobs to rise above poverty and become part of the mainstream economy. Nationally, we have a secretary of Housing and Urban Development, Ben Carson, whose mom was one of those people. Locally I know of a successful businessman who quite a few years ago slept in his car while seeking to better himself working at an entry level job. Today he is a business owner who seems to be doing quite well.

Maine’s current unemployment rate is somewhere around 3.7 percent. That sounds great, but what does it mean? An unemployment rate of 3.7 percent relates to more than 25,000 folks who by definition (U3) are able-bodied and have recently looked for work. That is not the entire story. There is another unemployment number (U6) that is even more revealing and is around 8.2 percent. This number relates to 55,000 Maine folks who are able-bodied and not working. Many of these folks are receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and/or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which are formal names for welfare.

Welfare reform is not about pushing people out on the streets without lodging, food or clothing. Welfare reform is about providing mandatory incentives for these same folks to get a job and start providing for themselves. Are there 55,000 jobs out there in the marketplace? Yes. Virtually any media interview with an employer will tell the story of a serious worker shortage. The next time you are at a convenience store, a grocery store, a home improvement store, Walmart, or virtually anywhere, observe the “Help Wanted” signs. What skills do you need to qualify? The only qualifications are to be able to stand up on two feet, come to work when expected, and be willing to learn. You may even be able to sit down at some jobs.

The perception is that these are low-level minimum-wage jobs and welfare benefits exceed the amount that one can earn. Therefore, why should one bother? There are two answers to this question. The first is that minimum-wage jobs are almost obsolete. McDonald's does not start folks at minimum wage. A local convenience store recently had a sign posted that the starting wage would be $11.75 per hour. There are many, many jobs available at considerably higher hourly rates than minimum wage.

The second answer is welfare reform. There needs to be some flexibility in these welfare programs so that they are not all or nothing. If someone gets a job, there should be provision for a reduction in benefits but leaving a portion of benefits so that the net to the individual is a gain in income. We must have incentives for folks to want to rise above their current place in life.

Why is now the perfect time for welfare reform? There are folks available to fill the jobs. There are plentiful jobs available. The wages at these jobs are rising due to worker shortages. Let’s get people to work.

Comments (8)
Posted by: Seth Hall | Jan 17, 2018 22:07

Oh Dale,  I'm so sorry to see that your dogma ate your karma. As Ron politely but persuasively points out, simply repeating whatever ideologically driven 'alternative facts' you heard on Faux News is unlikely to make for a solid, fact based argument.

Ah, but there's hope!  Simply turn off your TV, and actually read the underlying documents and data and try to form your own opinions. A radical and refreshing concept? Not really; in Colonial America virtually all small businessmen (e.g., mostly farmers),  could both read and write, and, surprise, surprise, think for themselves!!  Oh, how far we have come (fallen?)

Posted by: Ronald Horvath | Jan 16, 2018 10:04

A "little research," Dale?  How about


"A Mitt Romney TV ad claims the Obama administration has adopted “a plan to gut welfare reform by dropping work requirements.” The plan does neither of those things.

Work requirements are not simply being “dropped.” States may now change the requirements — revising, adding or eliminating them — as part of a federally approved state-specific plan to increase job placement.
And it won’t “gut” the 1996 law to ease the requirement. Benefits still won’t be paid beyond an allotted time, whether the recipient is working or not.

Romney’s ad also distorts the facts when it says that under President Obama’s plan “you wouldn’t have to work and wouldn’t have to train for a job.” The law never required all welfare recipients to work. Only 29 percent of those receiving cash assistance met the work requirement by the time President Obama took office.

Under the new policy, states can now seek a federal waiver from work-participation rules that, among other things, require welfare recipients to engage in one of 12 specific “work activities,” such as job training. But, in exchange, states must develop a plan that would provide a “more efficient or effective means to promote employment,” which may or may not include some or all of the same work activities. States also must submit an “evaluation plan” that includes “performance measures” that must be met — or the waiver could be revoked.

Ron Haskins, a former Republican House committee aide who was instrumental in the 1996 overhaul of the welfare program, told us the Obama administration should not have unilaterally changed the work-requirement rules. But Haskins said the Romney claim that Obama’s plan will “gut welfare reform” is “very misleading.”

“I do not think it ends welfare reform or strongly undermines welfare reform,” said Haskins, co-director of the Brookings Institution’s Center on Children and Families. “Each state has to say what they will do and how that reform … will either increase employment or lead to better employment” of recipients.

The Obama policy responds to state officials who say they can improve job placement and retention if freed from the time-consuming process of documenting and verifying that recipients are engaged in those work activities."

Posted by: Dale E. Landrith Sr. | Jan 16, 2018 08:53

Surprise.  I would support a workfare program as it implements exactly what I was proposing, a way for someone to ease off welfare and move into the work force.  Workfare also provides job training to help get the skills necessary for successful employment.  However, a little research shows that the Obama administration was successful in striking the work provision in the programs.

Posted by: Seth Hall | Jan 15, 2018 12:07

Hmm, as a 'simple thinker' myself, I wonder why neither Mr. Landrith nor Mr. Thomas brought up the time tested and well regarded "workfare" programs that have had pretty good success around the country for years?

A carefully planned and properly implemented workfare program offers many benefits, including a smoother transition from public support into financial independence, potential employer involvement, regional coordination, not to mention the potential for significant skills acquisition and improvement is self-esteem by the participants.etc.

I believe that he biggest impediment to such a program in Maine is the current (fortunately, short-lived!), administration, and their demonstrably punitive and heartless attitude toward those most in need. A relatively small investment at the State level could make a huge difference, and potentially transform the lives of thousands of families around the State.

And just so you'll know: this suggestion comes from a rabid Progressive, who has watched the  hard-hearted and mean spirited Republicans in power, both locally and nationally, squander years of opportunities to help those most in need of such a workfare program. If they really cared about workers and families as much as they say they do, they'd long ago have invested in the programs that would actually help those families, instead of squandering our precious government resources on tax breaks for the ultra-wealthy and corporation (can you hear me Sen. Collins??). Watch what they actually do, not what they say: actions speak louder than words!

Posted by: Harold Bryson Mosher | Jan 15, 2018 10:55

...or maybe James' years of experience mean that he has some idea what he's talking about, rather than writing a reply simply to perpetuate his paycheck.  I don't see your thinking as being simple, Dale, it's far too convoluted.  I will however trust James' opinion on the subject over yours.

Posted by: Dale E. Landrith Sr. | Jan 14, 2018 19:00

I do not believe that I have been accused of being a "simple-minded thinker' before.  Do not avoid the issue.  Why not a graduated approach to give the folks an opportunity to get off of public assistance.  It is interesting that the person who continues to support the status quo would accuse others of being simple-minded.  Of course if one is drawing a salary that is dependent upon people being kept in a poor economic situation, then one might wonder where the simple-minded truly reside.

Posted by: James M Thomas | Jan 14, 2018 12:18

As a social worker with many years of experience, I believe I can safely say that Mr. Landrith, here, is the pie-in-the-sky dreamer.  Various social welfare reforms designed to get people jobs and less dependent on tax dollars have been in place for decades.  It is not as simple as Mr. Landrith thinks.  The many social welfare reforms in this regard over the years have been supported by both more progressive as well as conservative taxpayers and legislatures.  While there is certainly always room for improvement and more innovation to get people capable of work off the various benefits, it is not like he is saying anything new or profound, unless, of course, you are one of those simple-minded thinkers looking for easy and black-and-white solutions.

I think is is also fair to point out that working for $10-12/hr. is not really enough to support a family, let alone just yourself, unless you have family support and still living at home.  Once again, we must consider the long-term cost to communities about health care for all, you certainly can't afford health care making that kind of money.  A car is a good example of how out of touch Mr. L is about cost-of-living for poorer people these days.  We have little to no public trans in midcoast Maine.  Families on TANF or working for those wages have no way of buying or paying for the many expenses of an older car needed to get back and forth to the many jobs Mr. L describes.  In my experience, the only way poor people get cars is if someone in their family loans them a car or helps pay for and maintain it.

Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Jan 11, 2018 16:05

Well Said!

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