Panel Discusses Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconcilliation Act

In light of the current presidential race, the Clutch Collaborative hosted a student panel debate about welfare on Wednesday.

“What are the goals of welfare? Does the government have a responsibility or incentive to promote goals?” asked Elaine Sohng ’13, Co-Head of the Clutch Collaborative and the panel’s moderator.

Jamie Freney ’13, Malachi Price ’13 and Michael May ’13 from the Andover Republican Society and Jeremy Chen ’13, Mimi Leggett ’13 and Rani Iyer ’15 from PA Democrats Club sat on the panel.

The panelists discussed the effects of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) of 1996, which increased the power that states have to determine how welfare is distributed. Under PRWORA, states are allotted a budget to spend on Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF), a federal assistance program.

The conservative representatives supported PRWORA, asserting that people often become too dependent on welfare. The panelists said that the unemployment rate would decrease because PRWORA would limit the amount of time a person can spend on welfare.

“I think the statistic that best captures what this bill did for America is that within the years that followed the passage of the act in 1996 to 2000, unemployment went down two to three percent. That is a huge number that speaks about what this act has done. People are getting back to work. People are starting to realize that’s how you succeed in life,” said May.

The liberals denounced PRWORA, stating that federal-level welfare reform is necessary. They said that May’s statistic was misleading, as the poverty rate fluctuates with the nation’s economy.

Chen said that “level of assistance that welfare provides” does not equal the income necessary to live and take care of children properly.

Next, Sohng asked whether welfare recipients should be subject to periodic drug tests.

The conservatives argued that drug testing was acceptable.

“If you don’t apply yourself fully to the effort to succeed, then you are not rightly eligible to receive welfare,” said Price.

“If you’re abusing drugs and collecting welfare, the government and taxpayers shouldn’t carry your burden,” said Freney.

The Democrat representatives argued that those convicted of drug felony were ineligible for welfare in the first place.

Iyer said that mandating regular drug tests would be detrimental to the self-esteem and confidence of those struggling to get a job.

Leggett added that the image of a “druggie who keeps having children in order to get money to buy drugs” is an unrealistic one. “It is mathematically impossible to collect welfare for your kids and buy drugs and still take care of yourself,” said Leggett.

“The community was probably hoping for something more heated, but I feel that the panelists did an excellent job outlining the social, economic and political reasoning and consequences of the PRWORA/TANF while avoiding major conflict which can oftentimes be distracting from the issue at hand,” Sohng said following the debate.

“I’m really interested in welfare and politics as a whole as a part of the associate board of the PA Democrats’ Club. I wanted to learn more about the Republican perspective on welfare. I wanted to help inform more students about the realities of welfare, because a lot of us haven’t experienced it ourselves and don’t have a clear perspective of what it’s like to live on welfare,” said Iyer. “I think the panel allowed for a civil discussion about the social and economic implications of welfare. I wish we had more questions from the audience, however, because there are a lot of dimensions to the issue that I wish we had been able to go into more.”

“It was well-organized and civil, and I believe the questions were well chosen. On the negative side, I think that the topic was slightly too narrow, which led to a lot of repetition from the panelists. Overall, it was a good experience, and I hope that it was informative,” wrote Price in an e-mail to The Phillipian.

Clutch Collaborative, started in the fall of 2012, holds panels on various topics regarding social change in which panelists get to debate about and advocate for the given topic. “It was started as an innovator on how to take practical action for civil change,” said Sohng.