One of the great triumphs of the federal welfare reform legislation passed in the mid-1990s was an insistence that states lay down tough work requirements for welfare recipients as a condition of receiving federal assistance. Though the fact is little publicized, however, another provision of the law allows states to substitute increased welfare spending for the work requirements and still receive money from Washington. That, of course, is an invitation to mischief, as reported by CNSnews, quoting Congressman Geoff Davis
“Many States have scoured their budgets to find other current program spending–such as for Pre-K, child care, and after school programs–they could report as TANF [welfare] spending,” Davis said at a hearing on Thursday. ”Others began counting third-party spending–such as assistance offered by food banks and Boys and Girls clubs–as TANF spending. One State even apparently found a way to count the value of volunteer hours by Girl Scout troop leaders as State TANF ’spending.’
This is, by the way, all entirely legal under the law as written.
This is a worthwhile reminder: even legislation as noble as federal welfare reform is only as strong as those charged with carrying it out. The right laws are deeply important. But so are the right lawmakers.