Will Record Welfare Growth be the Obama Legacy?

MADISON – Two months-plus into his second term, it would seem President Obama’s thoughts have turned to legacy building.

We know he’s weighing his options on his presidential library.

USA Today last month reported universities and community groups in Chicago and Hawaii have been busy lobbying Obama’s crew for the right to host the 44th president’s library.

Obama sounds conflicted.

“It’s a tough choice, but it’s not one that I’ve made yet,” he told an interviewer in February.

Regardless, it would seem Obama is thinking about his place among the presidents.

As the calendar turns to April, Obama’s final days in office number 1,389, but who’s counting — other than just about every conservative in the land.

What will the president’s ultimate legacy be?

Most of Obama’s “achievements” — the word, of course, a matter of political debate — will be tied to expanding government, his unshakable belief that the lives of the American people are made abundantly better through government.

There is no stronger argument for the president’s faith in big government than the Obama administration’s successful campaign to expand one of the federal government’s biggest social welfare programs: food stamps.

As the Wall Street Journal pointed out in a detailed piece last week, the financial crisis is over and the Great Recession is long past. President Obama, of course, is the first to argue that the anemic U.S. economy is beginning to show signs of recovery.

Still, enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program has soared 70 percent since 2008, to a record 47.8 million as of December 2012.

A March 14 article in Wisconsin Reporter comes up with a similar thesis: That while unemployment declines to its lowest level in four years, the number of SNAP recipients continues to rise by tens of thousands every month.

A stubbornly sluggish job market and a rising poverty rate are the biggest driving forces behind the record food stamp benefit rate, SNAP officials rightly assert.

And while President Obama certainly didn’t create food stamps,  his administration appears to be doing everything in its power to feed a welfare state.

In recent years, states have been able to “ease asset and income tests” for would-be SNAP recipients, “with the encouragement of the Obama administration, allowing into the program people with relatively higher incomes as well as savings,” according to the Wall Street Journal article.

The income-asset thresholds changed with a Clinton administration rule tweak in the 1996 welfare reform law.

In 2001 and 2002, six states adopted rules that eased income and asset requirements for SNAP, the Wall Street Journal story noted. “Previously, applicants could be disqualified if they had $5,000 in the bank, or earned slightly more than the poverty threshold.”

The idea was to use government aid to keep Americans from wiping out their savings.

“Policy makers wanted to allow newly poor families, such as those where the breadwinner was temporarily unemployed, to have enough money to put gas in the cars and pay phone bills — two necessities for finding and retaining jobs,” the article notes.

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