Republican attacks on Obama welfare policies wrong

The Republican Party should be ashamed of spreading disinformation about President Obama’s welfare policies. It is trying to use using divisiveness and fear to gain at the ballot box.

Playing the race card and reviving old and inaccurate welfare stereotypes is just plain wrong.

The Romney campaign is running an ad called “Right Choice,” which claims that the Obama administration has changed the rules so that instead of hewing to existing work requirements, welfare recipients would receive their checks anyway for doing nothing.

“Under Obama’s plan, you wouldn’t have to work and wouldn’t have to train for a job,” the ad states. “They just send you your welfare check, and ‘welfare to work’ goes back to being plain old welfare.”

First, there is an irony to the Republican attack, which lies in the fact that this change came about as part of the Obama administration’s desire to shift more power to the states in their decisions on how to administer Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds. Yielding to states’ rights is a Republican hallmark, and a couple of Republican governors even sought this change from the Obama administration.

But worse, there is no suspension of work requirements, only a waiver to allow states more input into how to define what kind of work meets them.

“The ad’s claim is not accurate, and it inflames old resentments about able-bodied adults sitting around collecting public assistance,” notes the Tampa Bay Tribune’s “politifact” checker.

This brand of negative politics plays on race-associated fears among middle-class whites, something the Republican Party has a long history of doing. Who can forget President Reagan’s classic “Welfare Queen” speech or presidential candidate George H.W. Bush’s Willie Horton ad?

In the current welfare debate, three facts need to be kept in mind here.

Number one: Poor whites outnumber any other racial demographic on welfare.

Number two: Poor children of all colors account for a majority of those on welfare.

Number three: The welfare rolls have been shrinking dramatically.

“Compared with the 1990s peak, the national welfare rolls are still down by 68 percent,” the New York Times reported earlier this year. “Just one in five poor children now receives cash aid, the lowest level in nearly 50 years.”

We don’t have a welfare problem in America. We have a poverty problem in America. And Republican race-baiting does not get us any closer to solving it.

Ed Morales is a contributor to the New York Times and Newsday and is the author of “Living in Spanglish.” He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org

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