Friday Question of the Day – 5 Year Limit on Welfare Payments in DC? (Reader Request)

by Prince Of Petworth November 18, 2010 at 10:10 pm 75 Comments

Photo by PoPville flickr user christopher.poole

I’ve gotten a ton of emails about this one. The Post reports:

“Two D.C. Council members from impoverished areas of the city are proposing to end cash payments to long-term welfare recipients to save tax dollars and encourage more of their constituents to find work.

The proposed five-year benefit limit, sponsored by council members Marion Barry (D-Ward 8 ) and Yvette M. Alexander (D-Ward 7), would bring the District in line with most other states, but the proposal is drawing warnings from advocates that it would lead to more homeless families, hungry children and crime.”

While the answer may be complicated, the question is quite a simple one – do you think this is a good idea or would it lead to more homeless families and crime?

  • Goku

    crime is gonna skyrocket.
    the drug game is gonna increase, more people hustlin = more crime. murders will go up as well as drug relation assaults. the list goes on. More homeless families so expect people to become more desperate and robberies will go up. There isn’t even enough jobs in this city to employ everyone 18 and over on welfare. They should just drop this bill, unless you wanna see DC go back to 1996………

    • Tres

      When Clinton instituted welfare reform in 1996, bringing the limit down to 5 years, the child poverty rate decreased and incomes of affected families rose 35%. (Thanks, Wikipedia.) This makes the case that more jobs always exist than are actively pursued. I mean, I was hard up, I might want to crawl into a shell until the recession passed.

      It’s also worth noting that the crime rate in DC dropped 18% from 1996 to 1997, for a total of 46% from 1995 to today.

      • Tres

        erm, “if I was hard up”

      • Anonymous

        The job market was leaps and bounds above what it is today during Clinton’s administration. Welfare to work is defensible when there are jobs to be worked. This plan is not defensible today. Comparing 1996 to now is like comparing apples to footballs.

        • So what carry them forever? There must be a limit!

          If you have no direction, nothing to work towards, no plans, then you are lost. Knowing your free ride will end certainly is strong incentive for any “intellegent person.”

          With this plan must come a connection to job training, tech skill education, and more… but the give-aways must be limited. If you know how to do nothing then the city should put you to work cleaning the streets… even an idiot can do that.

          As so many people like to say, “It was different back in the day.” Well it is different now so stop looking back. That worked about as well as school busing.

          There are more people, less money in the government, less of the old jobs (manufacturing, housing industry, etc.) and a need for more “required” adult education tied to benefits.

          I also think there should be sporadic inspections to verify compliance in peoples homes. Insurance companies hunt for the deceivers and crimminals.

          Way too many people are getting away with too much. Show up at some of these doors with a check-list and watch how fast the numbers change.

          For once in my life I can honestly say, BRAVO to Mr. Barry. Finally a solid, needed, good idea.

          And yes, work would strengthen the families.

        • Tres

          Yeah, I don’t think this would ever pass if it caused expiration of benefits today. I imagine if they allowed people a 2 year grace period, that would be sufficient notice for those affected and would allow time for the economy to recover and produce more jobs. It might cause some people to leave the welfare rolls today — “early birds” who realize that waiting a full 2 years would mean they’d be competing with a greater number of people for jobs.

      • anon

        The “1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act” came from a Republican controlled congress, not from Clinton. All he did was sign it.

        • All he did was sign it… hehehe…

          But clearly he didn’t veto it.

          Don’t be so naive.

    • Anonymous

      What does that say about DC culture?

      That unless people can get money for nothing from the government they will detriorate into a barbaric lawless mob of savages?

      There is not enough jobs? I see people begging me for money 10 feet from a help wanted sign. There are jobs but some people would rather beg than work as a dishwasher or cashier at a restaurant (which is what the help wanted sign was for)

      • Jessica

        or pretend to be a mugged Marine. Granted, he earns more per hour than a real Marine (and what does that say about how we pay our enlisted service members)…but still.

      • DM

        I saw a guy in the parking lot at ALDI, returning shopping carts for people so he could collect the 25 cent deposit… This is a respectable man whose intent is to give SOMETHING back to society and earn an honest quarter…
        Then there are people who are on the take, grifting and gaming the system, collecting the government check so they can drive a car to get their hair done while the honest people are taking the bus home from work.

        Lord knows those of us who are paying taxes understand how much of a difference a little more money would make.
        At the same time, some people out there act as if it isn’t their money being wasted. WAKE UP AND LOOK AT YOUR PAY STUBS!
        You are paying money into MANDATORY system that REWARDS laziness.
        A system that ANYONE could qualify for if they are willing to lie.

        • Jessica

          Wow, it must suck through life thinking everyone but you and a prescious few others are totally honest.
          I’m more pissed about how much of my money goes to Medicare and Social Security when 1) I wont get a nickle of that and 2) “welfare” is a TINY fraction of where tax money goes.
          Obviously it’s better if everyone works and everyone is honest, but if you want to live in a capitalist society, there are losers and there are cheats. What’s what makes some people poor and some people not poor.

          • Anonymous

            wow hyperbole.

      • Anonymous

        it says far more about goku’s opinion of welfare recipients that it actually says about dc culture

    • Anonymous

      At the same time, Barry and some of the
      D.C. Council wants to make it easier for the city to hire ex-convicts


      • DM

        So legitimate funds can be the seed money for illicit activities… good f-ing grief.

      • longley

        I agree! Everyone who has gone to jail should never work again in their life! Totally reasonable solution.

        • Makes sense to me, yeah right!

          NON-SENSE BOYS… Idiots.

    • Xi

      sure, crime may go up, but I think at least a small fraction of these welfare families will get jobs, and in turn hopefully their children will grow up to be responsible adults. I’d rather risk getting robbed than have my tax dollars support generations of these welfare babies. I’ll shine my sneakers and carry no cash, the joke’s on them!

    • ORRRRR

      Maybe this will just mean less money for liquor, drugs, smokes, and powerball…

  • Jason

    Best. Bill. Ever.

    Goku is just fearmongering.

  • Lester

    Marion Barry? Really? Would love to read his position on this.

  • QStreet

    Didn’t know DC footed the bill for residents who have exhausted their federal benefits. I guess that explains a lot about my neighborhood. Pass it.

    • Anon


  • pennyworth

    terrific idea!

    • notolp


  • I’d like to see in this economic time when many people who are qualified and sometimes over qualified can’t find decent jobs to support their families. How do they proposed to do this? I would also like to know what implements are they suggesting the government put in place to help educate and employ these families. If they can do that successfully and the children aren’t being affected than I’m for it.

    • yuppiehell

      Ok then if you don’t want to end the welfare come up with another way to fill the budget. you either cut benefits and services or tax more.

      • Anon

        tax more. I don’t think people in the $250,000+ bracket will miss it, unless they’re buying tacky overpriced lofts and driving up housing costs for the rest of us…
        And don’t tell me they’re working so much harder and therefore deserve it. Tell that to the guy climbing into the sewers, or building your luxury building, or collecting your trash, or the mother who has to choose between neglecting her kids or working the 2-3 low-wage jobs needed to independently support them.

        • We can’t lay everything on those that make higher amounts than most. That is not right.

          People need to take responsibility for their ownself and their own families and stop depending on everyone else.

          Government can’t do everything for you, shouldn’t, and now with the new Republicans in charge, there will be less and less.

        • Tres

          We can always pay for welfare. There’s always a way to tax more people. The point is that welfare as it’s implemented in DC now doesn’t work for the people it purports to help.

    • DM

      I propose a well placed ant trap

    • DCster

      +1. This isn’t the Clinton economy and so the timing is not right. I would be supportive for limiting receipt of transfer payments to a set time period, say 2-3 years in a 5 year period, but not having a lifetime limit. Someone pointed out that most recipients just rely on these programs when times are tough – that is not the problem. The problem is more long-term dependence which would be controlled by a limit on consecutive (not lifetime) receipt of benefits. But this only will work with more job training and adult education funding (and I don’t think DC has the money to offer that at this time).

    • How about a little self relience…

  • Aynon

    Marion Barry said yesterday that keeping poor blacks on the welfare role was some way of white people continuing to enslave the blacks …. well here is one white person who is definitely in favor of FREEDOM !!! …. Liberate everyone from the welfare roles ASAP! I’m tired of my taxes going to support enslavement of people …. let everyone free to work, to be themselves, to be free to live on their own without my help!

    • :)


    • 619

      Completely agree!

  • JE

    This is a great idea. But I doubt the Council has the spine to carry it out.

    • Kamantha

      CM Wells already said he wont support this bill….

  • A.S.

    There are ways to encourage work without ending welfare payments. I’d like to see ideas that don’t involve cutting transfer payments to needy families, especially at a time when, as the NY Times explained recently, there are 5 unemployed workers per job opening in the US.

    • Anonymous

      This is D.C. and statistics here are different than the rest of the U.S. People are still making money here and, compared to other parts of the country that have the 5 year limit, DC has a high number of available jobs. There is no reason this shouldn’t pass.

      • A

        Actually in the District the unemployment rate is over 10%, same as the rest of the country. The DC region has a lower overall rate, but not DC proper.

        • DC residents can work anywhere they want in the region and in the country…

          Stop giving people a pass who do nothing but ride on everyelse’s back.

          • A

            Sure they can look outside of DC for a job but the point is there are a LOT more unemployed folks than there are jobs, esp if you don’t have a college degree.

          • Anonymous

            people can create their own jobs too. it’s not required that you work for someone else.

        • DCster

          Actually it’s even worse that than in some of the Wards (more like 30%). So claims that people can just go find a job at the snap of their fingers (even outside of DC) must be from people who haven’t been applying to jobs despite having no college education and a shoddy resume.
          That said, people receiving benefits should be required to get mental health counselling, enroll in detox programs, or pursue employment training in exchange for the subsidies they are receiving.

          • ess

            um, there is a work activity requirement for TANF. People have to be working or going to job training. Brown & Wells’ bill would allow mental health/substance abuse treatment, GED class, and other traing to count (right now it doesn’t, even though the feds would reimburse us for TANF spent on folks in these programs).

            if you don’t do your work requirement, you lose your benefits (though the kids in the household still get theirs). so if a parent w/ 1 child does the work requirement, she gest $336 a month. $270 for the kid if she doesn’t.

  • briefly

    Its a smart political ploy, one of those proposals that have zero chance of passing but generate media attention. I hope Barry feels some guilt for furthering the enslavement of his own people via his policies while mayor but in this case he is just grandstanding. I suspect a lot of conservative money in DC is freed up now that Fenty is leaving and Gray is farther to the left, and Barry and Alexander have their eyes on that cash. Of course, if anything good comes of it in regards to promoting self sufficiency among one of the most pathetic and dependent populations on the planet, that’s fantastic as well.

    Barry is a complicated and interesting guy. He’s generally one of the leading advocates of stronger penalties for violence in general and gun violence specifically in DC. He’s also one of the only council members to be a victim of violent crime. Of course, his comments during the last crime bill debate in 2009 were reprehensible and disengenuous, so he’s not there when it counts.

  • Native JD

    Good idea from Barry. If they can’t find the jobs, the city will continue to gentrify and improve.

  • Cliff

    This is a great idea, and long overdue.

    • joker


      This is long overdue in DC. Our system does nothing but breed generational dependance.

      And for those of you harping that we shouldn’t do it because the crime rate will increase, well…thats what we pay the police for, and I for one would rather take the savings from the ~tens of thousands of people in DC who have been on welfare longer than 5 years and parlay it into some new police jobs, then keep the money flowing to people who have no intention on “getting out of the system”.

      Pass it now

  • sb

    TANF is CHEAP compared to homeless services and foster care.

    While some parents on TANF could be working, cutting everyone off arbitrarily is risky.
    a) it’s a big penalty on kids, who can’t control what parents they got.
    b) a lot of TANF recipients have some pretty serious barriers to work (disability, domestic violence, etc.) that the Department of Human Services admits they haven’t screened for or helped people address.
    c) research shows that time limits do lower the welfare rolls (duh–if you had a one-month time limit, even fewer people would be on TANF!) but that it doesn’t really get more people to work. The majority of people who stay on TANF a long time are really really not able to work (serious substance abuse, physical or mental illness, caring for a very sick relative, etc.)

    Maryland seems to have a better idea–they work with all TANF recipients to figure out what they need to get them to work (or onto permanent disability benefits if they’re too ill to work). They provide services that actually get people ready for work (the District’s TANF vendors basically say “here’s how to write a resume. And here’s a computer and a copy of the Express. Go find a job.”). If you follow their plan, you get benefits til you find a job. If you don’t follow it, you get kicked off. They haven’t kicked anyone off for exceeding the 5-yr time limit. This looks a lot like the Tommy Wells/Michael Brown bill that has a lot better chance to pass than the Barry/Alexander one. In fact, Barry himself said he wouldn’t vote on his bill the way it’s written (which would kick TANF-recieving households off a lot of other benefits as well) and that he just introduced it to start a conversation.

    • Marc

      TANF is a terribly designed program. It should be wound down and the EITC expanded to compensate. EITC is at least designed to incentivize work, and the data on it are pretty darn good.

  • Anonymous

    Marion Barry’s first good idea.

  • anon

    There’s been a lot of press this week about how DYRS wards cause a lot of the major crime in the city. These kids are out causing trouble *regardless* of their momma’s TANF benefits. Maybe it would be worthwhile to cut the benefits, and invest at least part of that $35M in improving the Dept. of Youth Rehabilitation Services.

  • AWard

    How many states support welfare after 5 years? Does anyone know?

    • Anonymous

      i don’t. great question.

  • anonymous

    Yes, I’m all for it. And also we need stronger punishments for people who keep having many babies while on welfare.

    • DM

      Stronger punishments? I’m sorry…you meant LESS INCENTIVE.

  • Anonymous

    Seriously? Who gives an eff about this. The FDA is forcing manufacturers to pull Four Loko from the shelves of 7-11’s nationwide and I haven’t heard anyone on this blog raise a peep. Where are your priorities people?

  • DM

    LokoTroll is obvious troll.

  • Anonymous

    If all of the public schools offered 3 meals a day (some already do), children wouldn’t starve if they went to school. Perhaps the money saved by cutting benefits could be used to offer year-round school.

  • Shaun

    Wow, it pains me to even say this….but I AGREE with Marion Barry <——still shocked I just said that!

  • Fred “The Dorf” Dorfman

    Does anyone believe that the welfare system as it stands today is perfect? Inner city residents aren’t seeing their lots in life improve and the welfare system is seemingly part of the equation. I’m not sure if we ought to expand it or contract it, but I’m open to hearing people’s suggestions. It’s time to do something.

    No one’s talking, it seems, about cutting taxes in DC. The money that we would be sending as cash payments could be used to subsidize small business development, possibly affording these people new job opportunities. Or perhaps we could use the money for job training.

    It’s time for good governance. While I dislike Barry and think his motives aren’t noble, I’m glad he put this idea out there. Maybe it’ll spur debate about how to solve some of DC’s problems that still exist as a legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, riots, the Great Society, etc. etc.

  • gup

    all thumbs up. This explains why when i take sick/personal day and see 90% of my block at home. I did entertain the notion that perhaps like women who all live together, we are on the same virus/errands cycle…but i think unlimited welfare payments is probably the more rational answer.

  • wdc

    Why if every other jurisdiction in the US has already done this, can’t we?

  • IHOP

    I had no idea that DC paid welfatre benefits after the federal program had run out. I hope everyone on here giving this a thumbs up is also contacting their councilperson.

  • Marcus Aurelius

    I think it says a lot about this idea that it is being sponsored by the Council members who represent the poorest parts of the city. These folks see the cycle of poverty firsthand. In the grand scheme of the DC budget, the $35 million dollars this will save is not all that much. But the principle is important.
    Having said that, the real key to the problem was identified by the Director of DHS, when he said
    “The challenge in the District is that many of the customers we support are not functionally literate enough to get jobs.” That’s the complaint that you constantly hear from employers. And that’s why most of the agreements the City makes with private companies in which they are required to give preference to DC residents don’t mean anything. They all have an out that kicks in if the company can’t find qualified employees.

    • Jason

      >> “The challenge in the District is that many are not functionally literate enough to get jobs.””

      Since they clearly aren’t at work all day why don’t they use their idle time to improve their literacy? Show some pride…

  • “…35 million dollars this will save is not all that much.”

    Ridiculous statement. How much could city do with that amount.

    Give me a break.

    We better make a change or the “New Tea Baggers” who will run the oversight committee will. Then those entitled and those in need will have nothing.

    • Marcus Aurelius

      The FY 2011 budget is $10.4 billion dollars. So no, in the grand scheme of things, $35 million (0.35%) is not all that much. My point was that this is not a huge cash saver, but it is worthwhile as a matter of principle. And yes, better uses could probably be found for that money.

  • Anonymous

    Is it welfare, or the deeply engrained anger and hostility in the malcolm x muslims that is causing all the incredible violence and malaise in the communities of color in this town? Was welfare an insult in the face of the needs for proper reparations for centuries of slavery and racism?

  • justbreathe226

    Seriously people? Who actually thinks that any of Marion Barry’s policies could end up well? He is the definition of a megalomaniac oh and a criminal. How about we just vote him out. Anyone with me?

  • Jason

    This country is so fucking stupid. The vast majority of our taxes go to starting foreign wars and supporting old people (which is fine, but no one complains because social security isn’t means tested) and all we really get heated about is spending paltry sums on poor black people. How about a little introspection people? The system isn’t perfect but lets get our priorities straight. It just really grinds my gears. Thanks Reagan.


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