We are approaching the 20th anniversary of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act–also called “welfare reform”–which was passed by President Clinton working with the Republican-controlled Congress. This welfare reform law changed the terms of federal aid to the poor. Among other things, the law replaced Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. The new TANF program placed a strict time limit on how long the federal government will provide assistance to individual poor families and added various work requirements for recipients.
The goal was to “end welfare as we know it,” which Clinton campaigned on in 1992.
The law was bitterly resisted by progressives, who argued it was effectively ending a safety net that had existed for poor families since the New Deal era. Several Clinton appointees actually quit the administration over welfare reform’s passage.
But the outrage from the left not only failed to stop the passage of the law, it has proved incapable of changing the political culture enough to have the law reversed. In 2008, Sen. Hillary Clinton defended and strongly endorsed her husband’s welfare reform while on the campaign trail. “Welfare should have been a temporary waystation for people who needed immediate assistance,”she said. “It should not be considered an anti-poverty program. It simply did not work.”