Correction appended: This column referred to Ron Haskin’s book as “Welfare over Work.” The book’s title is “Work over Welfare.”

Last week, former House Ways and Means Committee staffer and Brookings Institution senior fellow Ron Haskins presented his book “Welfare Over Work” at the Ford School of Public Policy. In the book, Haskins draws on his experience as one of the primary authors of the 1996 Welfare Reform Law and provides a unique perspective on the politicized world of controversial policymaking.

Haskins began writing his landmark proposal for welfare reform when most considered the effort superfluous. Many powerful politicians before him tried and failed to rework the flawed system. In the end, he attributes the success of welfare reform in part to an alignment of political superstars – Clinton’s promise to “change welfare as we know it” and Newt Gingrich’s ascension to speaker of the House. Haskins even joked that Clinton’s constant co-optation of Republican issues is one of the reasons the he was so hated by the opposing party.

Conscious of his student audience, Haskins touched on the role of policy staffers and the hours of preparation required in anticipation of the moment when a senator or president will allow his view to be swayed by technocratic arguments. Although he shared several amusing anecdotes from the book – including theatrical stalling tactics on the House floor by Democrats waiting for Clinton’s signal – Haskins seemed more intent on proving the merits of welfare reform to a mainly Democratic audience than looking critically at the 10 years since the reform.

Haskins included in his overview of welfare reform a description of two rather surprising initiatives. Along with creating five-year time limits for temporary assistance programs and ending cash entitlements, funding was provided for abstinence-only education and charitable choice – government grants given to religious organizations. Being opposed to abstinence-only education, I was surprised to learn that it originated as part of welfare reform. The logic seems simple enough, abstinence-only education means fewer teens having sex, which equals less teenage mothers, which means less people on welfare. I would have to disagree.

Although Haskins believes abstinence-only education is largely responsible for the decrease in teen pregnancy, the program leaves students who choose to have sex woefully underinformed, making them more likely not to use protection when the time comes. In regards to charitable choice, it seems that the government transferred the responsibility of caring for the impoverished to religious organizations that dole out advice with their services.

At the end of his presentation, Haskins mentioned several shortcomings of welfare reform, and I found this part, however short, to be the most interesting part of the presentation. I say this not as a Democrat looking to criticize a Republican project, but because with an issue as important as welfare reform, policymakers should spend less time exalting past achievements and more time considering options for the future.

Most notably, Haskins expressed regret that more assistance was not provided to working single mothers. When writing the bill, he and others assumed that if a working mother obtained a minimum-wage job at the beginning of the five-year assistance program, she could be making up to $16 an hour when her benefits expired. For a variety of reasons, this has turned out to be untrue; single working mothers tend not to progress in terms of position or salary, and programs designed to remedy the problem have largely failed. Haskins noted that the most promising initiatives include government financed education at local community colleges, which tailor classes to fill employment needs in the community.

“Work over Welfare” is a political junkie’s dream; it provides an amusing window into the backroom dealings and parliamentary style-stunts that accompanied welfare reform. Haskins’ presentation, however, fell short of expectations due to a lack of self-evaluation. Still, welfare reform now and in the future presents a challenge to policymakers and Haskins’s book and appearance on campus brought the issue to the forefront once again, if only for a day.

Amanda Burns is an LSA senior and member of the Daily’s editorial board.

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