An amazing thing happened in 1776, 1787 and 1996

I’ve been thinking about the welfare problem of late. I remember watching The David Susskind Show on Channel 12 circa 1970 where this woman, who happened to be black, had 14 kids and proudly boasted to Susskind’s nationwide audience that she was going to have 14 more, because the more kids she had the more welfare money she got. I believe she became the national image of what most people called “The Welfare Queen”.

I made the assumption that we still have folks who are “career welfare queens.” Then I remembered that Bill Clinton and Newt Gingrich passed some major changes in the welfare system back in 1996. So I did a bit of digging this week and found that today’s welfare program is not the welfare program of the past. Welfare is now called, TANF, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families Program. Here is what I discovered:

TANF is the cash benefit program that replaced the AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) Program on March 3, 1997. You can only get TANF for 60 months or five years in your lifetime. After that, you cannot get welfare for yourself or your children. Any months you spend on welfare after March 3, 1997 count towards the 60 months or five-year limit. The five-year limit applies to all adults and heads of household. A head of household is anyone who signs a welfare application to collect welfare for herself and a child. The five-year limit does not apply to “child only” welfare cases. For example, if a grandmother is getting a welfare check for her two grandchildren, but not for herself, the children’s welfare will not end after five years. Not every adult can collect “child only” welfare. If you are the natural or adoptive parent of a child, you must be on the welfare grant with the child.

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To get a monthly welfare check, you must help local authorities get child support from your child’s father unless you have a good reason for not wanting to name the father. For example, a good reason would be if you think that giving his name would put you or your child in danger. If you do not have a good reason, and you do not help local authorities get child support from your child’s father, you will lose at least 25 percent of your welfare check. If the child’s father is paying support, the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) may send you part of that money for child support, separately from your welfare check.

So how many people do we have on TANF today vs. 1996? The number of Americans on welfare plunged from 12.6 million in 1996 to 4.2 million individuals by 2009, a dramatic 67-percent decrease.

So what does all this mean? It means that in spite of all the negative news we hear constantly there are some things that have improved. This is an example. Why is this important? The improved welfare system happened only because both Democrats and Republicans were willing to work together to get something positive accomplished. Maybe each of us should send a copy of this column to our respective legislatures in Washington to remind them that we want more of this, not gridlock. Compromise is not a dirty word. Had our founding fathers not compromised, we’d not have a Declaration of Independence nor a Constitution.

Mike Cannatelli’s Column appears every other week, both online and in the print editions of the Avon Grove Sun and Kennett Paper.