In his essay criticizing welfare reform (“Unfinished Business,” Commonweal, February 29), Thomas Massaro says that assistance to low-income single mothers “has vanished from our collective radar.” Massaro is upset that so little money is used to fund Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), and that the nation has failed to reach a political consensus on the impact (negative, in his view) of the 1996 reforms. He blames Republicans for their continued regressive policy priorities: freezing welfare spending, increasing work requirements, and promoting marriage initiatives.
A decade ago I would have embraced much of this assessment of welfare reform. Like Massaro, I blamed Republicans for inadequate funding and regressive policy initiatives. Yet the research I did for my 2007 book, Welfare Transformed: Universalizing Family Policies That Work (Oxford University Press), changed my perspective substantially. Evaluating welfare studies, interviewing policy experts, members of the Clinton administration, those who have left welfare, and welfare-to-work administrators, I became convinced that welfare reform was remarkably successful—far more successful than many liberals understand or admit.