Building a Groundswell and Bringing Back Welfare

Last week, Annie Lowrey had a good piece about the need to reinstate some sort of meaningful cash benefits for the poor. I certainly agree with that position, but this is the part of Lowrey’s argument I disagree with (boldface mine):

So here is my humble suggestion for the Clinton and Sanders campaigns: If you really want to help low-income families, bring back welfare. Make it easier to get and easier to keep. Rename it, rework it, and destigmatize it. Use it as a vital, instrumental tool to help all very low-income families with children, not just a last resort for some. Make reform about helping kids and ending extreme poverty rather than punishing parents….

But one way or another, Bernie and Hillary, bring welfare back. Bring it back because you love poor children more than you judge their parents for their inability to keep a job. Bring it back because you love poor children more than you hate their fathers for abandoning them, or their mothers for having an addiction. Do it because you recognize that some parents will have mental-health conditions that our public system will never adequately treat. Do it because you recognize that some adults will have disabilities that Social Security will never recognize. Do it because some children will have parents that will make terrible decisions over and over and over again, and we still — especially — need to support those kids. Do it because you realize that welfare reform was a punitive policy whose consequences were papered over by an economic expansion, during which time everybody in Washington declared victory and walked away.

It might not be popular. But Sanders and Clinton should embrace welfare for the extraordinary good that it could be, and should hate welfare for leaving so many families adrift — and should push back on the narrative that the only deserving poor are the working poor, and the only deserving families are working families.

I agree wholeheartedly with the sentiment, though I find it hard to believe that Clinton, who made her bones (“2-for-1 presidency” and all that) on welfare reform and referring to recipients as “deadbeats”, would embrace this, even on principle.

That notwithstanding–and I write this as someone who typically wants to push fast and far–there has been no groundwork laid for this (and, despite delusions of grandeur, a few bloggers and the occasional think tank paper or book doesn’t count as a movement). With a livable minimum wage, not only have policies been proposed and analyzed, but people are literally in the streets over this issue. Ditto a better healthcare/healthcare insurance system–single payer has been proposed since 1948. With those issues, there are movements, rhetoric and proposals for campaigns to glom onto and use. Admittedly, the pundit bubble often ignores them, but there is a significant base of support among, well, people.

But it would be political suicide months before a general election for a presidential candidate to argue for increased welfare–when welfare still means to many 45 and older voters, including some Democrats–”money for undeserving black people.” Other than a few of us Dirty Fucking Hippies, no one is really talking about overhauling welfare. The closest proposal is a universal guaranteed income, but even that doesn’t have any real momentum behind it.

I realize Lowrey is a reporter, but if she’s serious about this, then she needs to help build the foundation for this–maybe some solid reporting on what happened would help. Even a pie-in-the-sky, unpragmatic Sanders supporter realizes a presidential primary isn’t the time to broach this issue on a lark.

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1 Response to Building a Groundswell and Bringing Back Welfare

  1. kaleberg says:

    It isn’t about bringing back welfare. It’s about bringing back welfare to those who actually need it as opposed to those who are politically well connected enough to get it.

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