Hillary Clinton on PovertyClinton mostly blames the failure of the 1996 Welfare Reform Bill on the Bush Administration and Republican Governors.
ANDREA BERNSTEIN: So I remember the politics of the 1990’s, and obviously I'm aware of the discussion in this campaign. But take, for example, the welfare bill. Now you've said the time limit was something that didn't work and has been punitive. That was something that people raised at that time, and I'm wondering is it something that you were worried about at that time in talking about that bill, but you didn't feel the politics of the moment would allow for such a discussion?
HILLARY CLINTON: So there were a lot of very strong supporters of changing the welfare system from what it had become, which was not at all a platform for most people going anywhere. And because of the way the states controlled a lot of the standards that were applied, there were such broad disparities between some states that were, you know, truly punitive and miserly, and states that tried at least to be more supportive. So there were some very important changes that were part of the welfare reform policy.
I remember well when my husband had been a governor, his working with Daniel Patrick Moynihan and others to see what we could do to make it a better safety net than it had been. And Bill, you know, shut the government down twice, because the Republicans were trying to slash Medicaid, slash food stamps. And they were going to push through a welfare reform bill after '94. And it was just a question whether it could be one that would have some promise attached to it. So yes, there were voices saying, "It doesn't matter what they do or how it's constructed, it's going to be bad."
I did not believe that. I believed that it could be a net positive, if it were implemented right. And I remember very well the incredible public-private effort that went into training welfare recipients, giving them that first rung on the ladder of a job. I met a lot of those people. I mean, as I traveled around the country I met people who thanked me for what my husband had done, because they felt, as one woman said, now when my little boy asks me what I do I can tell him I work and tell him where. So there was a lot that I thought was positive.
I would put most of the responsibility on the Bush Administration and on governors and on the failure to be able to get some of what was tried to have more modulation when there were downturns in the economy. But the Bush Administration and Republican governors were really not interested in continuing what had been the positive framework for welfare reform and now we have to take a hard look at it again, especially after the Great Recession and the five-year limit, but also the really unfair way that a lot of states have defined education benefits and other administrative changes that they have imposed on top of that framework.”
15 April, 2016: Interview with Andrea Bernstein of WNYC News