The U.S. welfare state is messy. That is not a nasty factor.

Many progressives are excited about Mitt Romney’s proposed child support, which would replace a number of existing poverty reduction programs. Ryan Cooper of the week describes it as an opportunity to “clean up some of the political filth that is messing up the American welfare state.”

But what if it is the politically “chaotic” aspects of the US welfare state that have enabled it to survive and even expand in the face of Republican presidents, Senate filibusters, and often hostile courts?

Despite the Reaganism and despite uniform GOP control from 2003 to 2007 and from 2017 to 2019, most of the US welfare state not only survived, but is far larger in terms of the total inflation-adjusted dollar in 2021 than it was in 1980 before it took office Reagan. Perhaps these inside Democrats are smarter and more adept than some of their expert critics realize.

Political scientists mockingly refer to the “iron triangle” of congressional committees, federal bureaucracy, and advocacy groups protecting government programs – but the division of the US welfare state into parts of various committees with interests of their own that preserve each program has often been key to survival in the face of right-wing ones republican attacks.

Perhaps the clearest example is grocery stamps, a program born and expanded as a result of a chaotic alliance of farm interests and largely urban poverty alleviation interests that over time has become the semi-absurd focus of the U.S. Department of Agriculture budget. In 1995, House Republican spokesman Newt Gingrich wanted to exhaust the Food Stamps (now SNAP) program by handing the money over to the States – exactly the piece that Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program did the following year was eviscerated. But he failed because the alliance of agricultural interests with poverty reduction groups blocked his move. A major adversary was his Senate counterpart, Republican Senate Majority Leader Robert Dole, an otherwise staunch Conservative who helped incorporate the Food Stamps program into the Agriculture Act in 1973 because it served the interests of farmers in his native Kansas .

Years later, under unified control of the Republicans under Trump, when the final agriculture bill passed in 2018, liberal anti-poverty advocate Robert Greenstein described it as “a solid bipartisan compromise that upholds and modestly strengthens the SNAP”, because these alliances still exist. In fact, for many families, SNAP is the largest income transfer in our system. It ranges from a program for just 12 million families with microscopic benefits from $ 14 / month in 1973 to 35.7 million in 2019 with an average family benefit of $ 258 / month. Month – with some larger families receiving more than $ 1000 a month.

School feeding grants, overseen by the House Education and Labor Committee, are backed by similar political coalitions, but complement the subcontractors, school feeding programs, educational reformers, and lobbying of the school’s 55,000 members who pay, offer and even run the Nutrition Association’s “Lunch.” Ladies “who support $ 24 billion in child nutrition programs every year. One measure of the value of school lunches is that a new pandemic benefit transfer will provide families with up to $ 1,700 per student for school meals missed from the start of the pandemic through the end of this school year. This underscores the money that is usually saved from family meal budgets.

While Republicans managed to largely core traditional monetary assistance (AFDC, renamed Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)), it funded the inactive poor through SSI and SSDI disability benefits administered and managed by the Social Security Subcommittee The range supported Disability rights advocates have grown significantly. In fact, disability roles have grown almost in step with the decline in welfare roles – although the mostly elderly disabled population is generally not the same as those who have left TANF. But federal disability pays far better monthly than AFDC ever did for the 13 million non-senior recipients who qualified in 2021.

The other major transfer of income to low-income families, Earned Income Tax Credit, was born in the 1970s as an alternative to the very kind of universal basic income plan that Andrew Yang advocated in the Democratic primary and Romney’s advocates – to a very limited extent – is now promoting with his child benefit proposal. Reagan would also encourage the expansion of the EITC in its 1986 tax legislation to replace the minimum wage increase. Later, Democratic lawmakers would use “coalitions for work” to massively expand the EITC under Bill Clinton and then under Barack Obama.

The result was that an EITC with a maximum of $ 851 for a Reagan family in 2021 is worth up to $ 6,660 for a family – with 26.4 million households qualifying for the EITC. A budget item of less than $ 10 billion in the 1980s rose to an estimated $ 73.1 billion last year, the largest household income transfer program against poverty. In particular, the EITC had the advantage over its semi-competing minimum wage policy that it can be increased by a budget vote in the Senate – again this year, when Biden is pushing for a further expansion of the EITC in his draft law to relieve the burden on coronaviruses and is faced with the likely exclusion of his minimum wage proposal due to filibuster rules.

These successes do not mean that the more complex mechanisms of the US welfare state always work perfectly. For example, helping low-income housing is unfortunately a disaster. Decades of struggles from the New Deal have left behind a series of programs, each with its own poverty alleviation, real estate and related interests that support them, and arbitrary access routes that leave most low-income families with no support for their pay Rental fee. This is all the more furious given that the government subsidizes homeowners so much more than renters through their mortgage withdrawal. But 5 million low-income households receive rental support through these programs, up to $ 1,000 a month for families in the most expensive cities. Even housing can be rated as a modest success. The budget for rental assistance programs rose from less than $ 2 billion a year in the mid-1970s to over $ 46 billion today (five times that when inflation is taken into account).

Put all of these programs together and, as the graphic shows, a parent with three children making $ 18,000 in New York, combined with state and local add-ons to the EITC and the current Child Tax Credit Credit, CTC) receive more than $ 20,000 in additional payments from the government for working 23 hours a week on a minimum wage job. If they qualify for Subsidy Subsidies under Section 8, it could easily bring total government aid to $ 32,000 a year – a fairly healthy welfare state that needs improvement but is underestimated by some progressives.

This brings us to Romney’s proposal to expand and “rationalize” the welfare system around child benefit payments. The CTC was born in 1997 as the sop of GOP leaders for “family-friendly” lawyers in the party – and the original CTC was anything but a poverty reduction program as it was only available to better-off families with significant tax bill. Only tactical alliances with these “family-friendly” conservative groups and compromises amid the economic crisis of the early 2000s – and then again in the financial crisis of 2008 – made the CTC partially refundable and gradual as families made more money. Romney’s proposal is to remove the CTC and a number of existing welfare programs, including capping the EITC, to provide a $ 3,000 benefit to all children. The problem is, these cuts in other poverty reduction programs in the name of “revenue neutral” are making many households, especially those run by single parents, worse off under Romney’s plan. This is similar to Yang’s more ambitious Freedom Dividend program, which would also hurt many low-income families by consolidating programs.

That’s just the problem with consolidation math. Politics may be even more dangerous when it comes to making child support the unique subject of conservative attack. Senators Marco Rubio and Mike Lee, who were two of the friendlier Republicans who made child tax credits more accessible to poor families, immediately attacked Romney’s “welfare” plan and pointed to possible future attacks on the program should the GOP die Majority control takes over.

While there is a shaky appeal to make the welfare state a “clean, efficient program that is readable by its recipients,” the history of the chaotic alliances that support any program argues that consolidation of welfare programs is more likely to lead to what is necessary Coalitions to be dismantled and formed. Program a focused target for conservative attacks. It is clear that taking advantage of the current crisis to expand and improve the child tax credit is a worthy goal – but not at the expense of other programs like the EITC, as Romney advocates. These other programs have their own constituencies and are part of the often frustrating US welfare state that has survived despite decades of attacks from conservative political leaders. Rather than indulging in the aesthetic of policy making, improvements in the US welfare state should recognize and build on the alliances that support current poverty reduction programs.

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