Thursday, August 9, 2007

Welfare gets the NCLB treatment

Conservatives are finally learning how to use the welfare state. The first hint of a revelation came from their masterful coup under the guise of "welfare reform," where House Republicans led the charge in delivering work-or-starve ultimatums to thousands. Welfare-to-work programs showed that state assistance does not have to be used solely as a social support system - it can also be a powerful disciplinary apparatus, by which incentives and punishments are leveraged on the poor until they function at the desired level of productivity. The autonomy of the poor may diminish as they are forced to accept the first job they come across - fair compensation and capacity for family care be dammed - but that is the nature of a system that prioritizes economic efficiency over social freedom.

The federal government is still uninterested in the no-win scenarios that the unemployed poor often find themselves in. Where states do not meet strict quotas for welfare roll trims, they get hurt. Take Indiana for example:

The federal government is warning Indiana it faces a $10 million penalty for not moving enough welfare recipients into jobs and off of public rolls in 2005.


That office's director, Sidonie Squier, says Indiana fell short of its target for the rate of welfare households participating in job training. The target was 33.4%, but the rate was only 30.9%.

The penalty would mean the loss of approximately 5% of the state's federal block grant for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. The grant pays for financial aid, job training, child care, child abuse prevention and other programs targeting Indiana's needy.

The last paragraph is definitely the kicker. We've learned that the Bush administration does not mind punishing poor students by removing what funding they do receive. And now Indiana will face a shortage of funds to pay for, among other things, job training because it has not trained enough people for jobs.

Rather than recognizing structural challenges and re-evaluating policies, the Bush administration rules with rigid mandates. And instead of providing services to the neediest parts of the country, they compound existing problems with harsh reprisals. It's a reinvention of the welfare state, not as a human service but as a more powerful tool to force compliance with an agenda that is at least as anti-poor as it is anti-poverty.

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