Economics, Faith and Welfare Reform: Can We Improve Government Policy for the Poor?

by Rebecca M. Blank, Clemens Lecture Series 9, 1997


After almost 20 years of working on issues relating to poverty and public policy I have concluded that the Bible got it wrong. It is not the poor who will always be with us; it is efforts to reform welfare that seem to be ever-ongoing. Every one of the last eight Presidents sent major welfare reform legislation to the Congress except George Bush, and his administration wrote and planned for such legislation without sending it forward.

The Recent Welfare Reform Bill: What Does it Do?

The latest effort at welfare reform is the (take a deep breath) Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996. Like other reforms before it, this legislation is a mixture of both old and new ideas. Viewed in one way, the legislation simply continues the trend toward a work-based public assistance system that has been underway for the past 20 years. But viewed in another way, the legislation makes fundamental changes to the organization of our system of providing public assistance and relief to the poor.

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