Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern

Northwestern University and Evanston's Only Daily News Source Since 1881

The Daily Northwestern


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Republican, Democrat hash out welfare debate

Two politicians engaged in a heated debate Wednesday night at the McCormick Tribune Center over a 1996 act that cut welfare for those who do not find work and gives benefits to those who do.

On one side was Republican Ron Haskins, senior adviser for welfare policy for the White House, who argued that the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 has led more people into jobs and off of welfare. Opposed was Democrat Wendell Primus, director of the income security division at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, who claimed that the reforms do not offer sufficient help for many welfare recipients, especially children.

Both speakers agreed that changes in welfare policy have resulted in more people working and the improvement of the American family structure. But sides differed when it came to discussing the roots — and extents — of the improvements.

Haskins emphasized the value of people in low-income brackets finding work instead of depending on government benefits.

“The legislation had the effect of exactly what it was intended to do,” Haskins said. “(Welfare recipients) have more money because they earned it.”

Haskins said programs designed to encourage workers by providing job training factored largely in the increased employment rates among welfare recipients.

Primus agreed that additional training helped welfare recipients, but added that some welfare families are actually worse off after welfare reforms, and that their income gains from work should be greater. He said increased child care expenditures also played a part.

Primus and Haskins also debated Primus’ contention that a strong economy in the 1990s.

“The claim that the economy played a major role is dubious from the very beginning,” Haskins said.

Haskins supported his statement with a graph, which showed a decline in the number of people on welfare during recessions, and an increase in welfare recipients during what he called “hot economy” periods.

But Primus said despite gains in income among welfare recipients, the improvements were not great enough, especially considering that inflation may have made benefit increases appear greater than they actually were.

Primus emphasized that current welfare policy neglects males who are living in the low-income bracket. He suggested the government devote more resources to helping men in the low-income bracket find steady employment.

“I would argue that our welfare system has been very sexist,” Primus said. “We expect low-income mothers to be nurturers … as well as the breadwinners.”

The debate, which attracted more than 200 individuals, was the first session of the Undergraduate Lecture Series on Race, Poverty and Inequality.

Weinberg seniors Laurie Jaeckel and Dale Vieregge founded the series in September in hopes of spurring interest in social research among undergraduates. They plan to hold similar lectures in the Winter and Spring quarters.

Education senior Tamica Daniel said the debate helped her connect her classroom experience to the real world.

“The issues really directly related to my major, and I think it was a good way to reinforce what I’m learning in the classroom,” Daniel said.

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Republican, Democrat hash out welfare debate