Massachusetts Begins Reforming Welfare-to-Work Program

Published May 6, 2015

Massachusetts lawmakers, working to move people from dependency on the state’s entitlement programs by returning them to work, announced the creation of “WorkFirst,” a comprehensive initiative to reform the state’s welfare system.

As measured by the 2015 Welfare Reform Report Card, published by the Heartland Institute in March, Massachusetts’s welfare policies received an “F” in four out of five measured categories: cash diversion, sanctions, service integration, time limits, and work requirements.

Only one state, Missouri, received worse marks from the Report Card.

The Heartland Institute also publishes Budget & Tax News.

Heritage Foundation Senior Research Fellow Robert Rector says establishing work requirements for welfare programs is a popular idea, as well as good policy.

‘States Don’t Like To Do Work Programs’

“There is a liberal ideology that says that welfare recipients are victims of oppression and therefore should not be asked to do anything,” he said. “That’s the standard liberal line, but it’s completely out of whack with public perceptions. Over 90 percent of even Democrats say that able bodied adults receiving cash, food or housing from the government ought to work or prepare for work as a condition of getting this aid.”

Rector, credited as one of the key architects of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996, says most state governments have become uninterested in helping their citizens off of the welfare rolls.

“The states don’t like to do work programs, but they’re very inventive and energetic in finding ways to avoid the federal standards. It’s something they’re very good at,” he said.

‘Very Large Behavioral Results’

Rector says returning to reforms proven to have worked in the past, such as welfare-to-work, is a winning strategy for helping people.

“You don’t have to kick people off the rolls. You just have to say, ‘Look, we will assist you, but we expect you to do something in return.’ You generally get very large behavioral results if you do that,” he said.

A recent lack of public interest in welfare reform has allowed state governments to become complacent, Rector says.

“Really, since about 2001 or so, there was no longer any public attention to it, and there was no longer any federal standard pushing states to do that. That’s how they all fell back into the check-writing mode,” he said.

“It’s a lot easier to write checks than it is to run a work program. Bureaucracies, more or less, tend to go to the easiest task,” Rector said.

The Poverty Trap

Peter Ferrara, Senior Fellow for Entitlement and Budget Policy with the Heartland Institute, says welfare entitlements trap people in poverty, instead of helping them out of poverty.

“The welfare system is actually the chief cause of poverty in America,” he said. “When they get free money, it’s a powerful incentive not to work… you’re paying people not to work. Data show that after the War on Poverty took off in 1965, work among the bottom 20 percent of the income ladder just collapsed.”

Tying Work to Welfare

Ferrara says expecting welfare entitlement recipients to work for their benefits is not unreasonable, given how generous the entitlements are.

“All welfare systems need to be tied to showing up to work first. Here’s an important fact that almost no one knows: the current minimum wage, plus the current Earned Income Tax Credit, plus the current child tax credit, equals or exceeds the current poverty line for every family combination,” he said. “That’s under current law, you don’t need to raise minimum wage to achieve that.”

Ferrara says tying welfare benefits to responsibilities is the key to helping people become self-reliant.

“This is the means for abolishing poverty, and it’s the only effective means. You no longer have any form of free welfare. You show up for work,” he said.”

Jeff Reynolds ([email protected]) writes from Portland, Oregon.

Internet Info:

Hope Corman, et al., “Effects of Welfare Reform on Illicit Drug Use of Adult Women,” National Bureau of Economic Research,