Updated 12-2-97



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The Great American Welfare Lab Wisconsin has cut its rolls by half. Many former recipients are working, but where have the rest of them gone? By Adam Cohen/TIME (4/21/97)

A Blue-Ribbon County Marquette County, Wisconsin, sheds its welfare load. By Adam Cohen/TIME (4/21/97)

Let Them Eat Birthday Cake Clinton's welfare reform dismays the President's favorite poverty scholar By Jack E. White/TIME (9/2/96)

Ripping Up Welfare With not a little drama, Clinton grudgingly approves the G.O.P. bill, and the U.S. starts a vast and risky experiment By George J. Church/TIME (8/12/96)

Related Sites

The Department of Health and Human Services Welfare Reform Page

Health and Human Services Welfare Reform Fact Sheet



Should Congress restore welfare funds for legal immigrants?



Points Along The Welfare Reform Trail


Aug. 26, 1996 -- President Bill Clinton signs the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, declaring, "This is not the end of welfare reform, this is the beginning, and we have to all assume responsibility."


Nov. 25, 1996 -- In an interview with TIME, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton announces she wants such a role in the welfare debate. "I want to travel around and talk to people about what is happening on the ground," she said. "I intend to speak out about it and write about it." At a Republican governors meeting, GOP Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson retorts, "We've finally got the chance to move people off welfare, and we really don't need the tender loving care of Hillary Clinton to mess it up." (Transcript of Mrs. Clinton's interview).


Nov. 25, 1996 -- New York Gov. George Pataki presents a welfare reform plan that includes, 1) eliminating cash payments to families after five years on welfare; 2) replacing cash payments to able-bodied, childless adults with vouchers for food, clothing and shelter; 3) allowing welfare recipients to earn more money without losing benefits.

Nov. 27, 1996 -- President Clinton proposes restoring some $13 billion in food stamps and welfare benefits for legal immigrants.


Feb. 1, 1997 -- Governors debate welfare reform at the annual National Governors Association meeting in Washington. "We will have chaos in the state when we cut off benefits to people who are legally there," predicts Florida Democratic Gov. Lawton Chiles, whose state has a sizable immigrant population. "It is totally unfair ... this is the mother of all unfunded mandates." In the majority, Republican governors oppose a resolution favoring the "re-opening" of the federal welfare reform law, arguing the legal immigrant issue affects relatively few states, which should design programs accordingly, without federal intervention.


Feb. 2, 1997 -- President Clinton addresses the National Governors Association meeting, telling the group he would concentrate on those issues as well. "I know that many of you have concerns about welfare reform, or Medicaid spending, or education and the environment, transportation. I'm looking forward to addressing those concerns beginning today at this meeting, but also every day for the next four years," Clinton said.


Feb. 6, 1997 -- The president submits his fiscal 1998 budget, containing $18 billion in funds for food stamps and welfare benefits for legal immigrants. GOP lawmakers counter with a plan for $2 billion in block grants for high-immigration states.

April 9, 1997 -- The administration announces plans to hire welfare recipients to federal government. The effort "is meant to be government-wide, and we think we have an obligation to set an example," spokeswoman Ann Lewis tells The Associated Press.

April 22, 1997 -- Administration officials consider whether to approve Texas Gov. George Bush's proposal to allow private companies to administer welfare operations. Without Washington's approval, the state cannot pursue some $2 billion in contracts from bidders such as Lockheed Martin, IBM, Electronic Data Systems, and an Arthur Andersen & Co. subsidiary.

April 23, 1997 -- Florida Gov. Lawton Chiles sues the federal government to restore welfare benefits to over 100,000 legal immigrants. "These cuts are cruel and, I believe, unconstitutional," he declares at a news conference.

lott gingrich

May 2, 1997 -- The White House and congressional Republicans strike a deal to balance the federal budget by 2002. The plan includes $13 billion to restore welfare benefits to legal immigrants, and restores funds for food stamps. The pact faces an uncertain fate in Congress.

May 7, 1997 -- The Senate votes 89-11 to scuttle the August 1 cutoff of welfare disability benefits for some 500,000 legal immigrants. "Our amendment ... provides some breathing room right now for elderly and disabled immigrants but allows Congress to continue its work" on a budget deal, says Sen. John Chafee (R-R.I.). The measure includes $240 million in spending; 11 Republicans vote no.

May 9, 1997 -- The Clinton Administration reports welfare caseloads have dropped 20 percent nationwide since 1993. Credited for the decrease are a healthy economy, the earned income tax credit, and federal waivers that allowed states to experiment.

May 10, 1997 -- The Clinton Administration indicates it will not allow states to turn over a vast array of social service programs to private companies to administer, dashing the hopes of many large corporations and political conservatives who saw the new welfare law as an opportunity for massive privatization.

The administration has told state officials in Texas, regarded as the forerunner in privatization efforts, that they can proceed with some plans to work with the private sector but only state employees can be charged with the task of determining who is eligible for Medicaid health coverage and food stamps.

May 13, 1997 -- Federal officials formally reject Texas' request to fully privatize its welfare offices but leave open the possibility of letting private firms run offices in part of the state as an experiment. Federal officials also say that Texas was otherwise free to modernize its computer systems and streamline administration of welfare programs statewide.

May 16, 1997 -- Governors in both parties accuse the Clinton Administration of making it harder for the states to comply with the welfare reform law by requiring them to pay the federal minimum wage to aid recipients forced into public service jobs.

May 20, 1997 -- President Clinton tries to gin up corporate support for a welfare-to-work initiative that he hopes will move a million more recipients to jobs by 2000. Corporate executives are invited to a White House session for the launching of the Welfare to Work Partnership, an independent organization pushed by Clinton and bankrolled by five corporations.

June 2, 1997 -- Under pressure from unions fighting to keep their thousands of welfare-worker members on the public payroll, the Clinton Administration will not allow Texas to privatize adminstrative duties. The idea went down after four national labor leaders visited the Oval Office and told Clinton the plan "would set an incredibly dangerous precedent."

June 4, 1997 -- House Republicans unveil their plan to revise the welfare law, renewing the fight over benefits to non-U.S. citizens and setting up a new confrontation over the minimum wage. The proposal outlined by Rep. E. Clay Shaw Jr. (R-Fla.), chairman of the House Ways and Means human resources subcommittee, would allow states to include the value of Medicaid benefits, child care and public housing assistance when calculating minimum wage payments for public or non-profit jobs. The Clinton Administration claims the law only allows states to use welfare cash payments and food stamps in calculating how much to pay a beneficiary toward the federal minimum wage of $4.75 an hour. Shaw argued the provision would be voluntary for the states and would give them better flexibility to meet their welfare needs.

June 23, 1997 -- Clinton attempts to answer his critics among mayors who believe that the welfare law he signed last August does not provide local governments enough money to put welfare recipients to work, particularly if the economy sours. "I know a lot of you thought it made a mistake signing the welfare reform bill ... but I thought it was worth the chance to change the culture of dependency," Clinton told the mayors. He reminded them his budget includes $3 billion to help transport welfare recipients to their new jobs. And he urged the mayors to lobby their state legislatures for their fair share of federal welfare block grant funds. Clinton complains that some Republican-written budget provisions moving through Congress "simply do not live up to the explicit commitment of the budget agreement" he reached with GOP leaders in May.

June 25, 1997 -- The House and Senate completed work on bills that would curb the growth of Medicare and Medicaid while providing sweeping changes to the fast growing entitlements. The bills, which mark the first major steps toward balancing the budget by the year 2002, include $16 billion to help states provide for children's health care and a number of changes to last year's welfare law. The Senate voted to restore benefits to immigrants who had become disabled.

July 5, 1997 -- More than a million people have been dropped from welfare rolls since new restrictions were enacted last year, says President Clinton in his national radio address. Changes in the way welfare is administered have contributed to a 3.1 million drop in caseloads since 1993, Clinton said. He urges states and businesses to do more to get 1 million more people off public assistance by 2000. He also calls on states, which administer the program, to use the money they save from reductions in their welfare rolls to finance child care, training and transportation for those who are finding work for the first time. "If we expect people to work, we need to make sure there's work for them to go to," he said. "And we need to make sure that those with no previous work experience, without present connections to mainstream America, get both the preparation and the support they need to succeed."

July 18, 1997 -- Republican leaders in Congress agree to try to exempt welfare recipients on work assignments from minimum wage and other workplace laws. President Clinton threatens a veto, and state officials say they have shelved earlier privatization plans in favor of a more gradual approach.

July 28, 1997 -- President Clinton warns governors to use welfare savings to create jobs for the poor and not divert the unexpected windfall to other projects. President Clinton puts himself at odds with Republican governors and insists that welfare recipients who are placed in state workfare programs be paid the equivalent of the minimum wage.

August 5, 1997 -- The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 becomes law and creates a new $3 billion welfare-to-work grant. A number of changes are also made to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant. Changes in the 1997 Balanced Budget Act partially restore funding to some programs that were hit hard in the 1996 budget; thus, many disabled, elderly immigrants are once again eligible for SSI; limits on food stamps are eased for some and food stamp recipients are now able to receive employment and training. A $20.3 billion block grant is created for children's health insurance.

The Taxpayer Relief Act of 1997 also become law and expanded the Work Opportunity Tax Credit Program and created the Welfare-to-work Tax Credit. These tax credits are available to employers who hire certain recipients of public assistance.

August 12, 1997 -- Clinton goes to St. Louis, Mo., to trumpet a robust economy and give it credit for the decreasing welfare roles in the state.

September 29, 1997 -- At least 16 states are certain they will not reach the goal of having 75 percent of their two-parent welfare families working or in job training by the Oct. 1 deadline, according to a survey by The Associated Press. Another 10 admit they are either unlikely to or unsure of meeting the target date. Among those which say they will miss this week's deadline are some of the nation's largest states, including California, Florida and Texas. The deadline is the first test of the welfare reform law.

October 8, 1997 -- Clinton announces an "unprecedented decline" in the nation's welfare rolls, a drop of more than 250,000 in the most recent month available, and by 3.6 million since he took office. The drop is "yet another piece of evidence that welfare reform is working far better than anyone had predicted it would," he said. Slightly less than 10.5 million Americans are now on welfare.

November 18, 1997 -- Clinton tours a new facility in Wichita, Kan., that Cessna Aircraft Co. is using to train welfare recipients in job skills assembling airplane parts. Back in Washington, officials unveiled the rules (which took 17 months to craft) governing the states' administration of the welfare program. The rules are designed to assess "balanced" financial penalties on states that miss federal targets for removing people from public assistance rolls.


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