Sen. Patty Murray of Washington has never seen a government stocking-stuffer she couldn’t learn to like. So when spiraling costs galvanized Congress to take on welfare reform in 1996, the unflappable Mom in Tennis Shoes knew she would have to act fast to take the sharp edges off of “the end of welfare as we know it.”
Joining forces with former Sen. Paul Wellstone of Minnesota, Murray argued that domestic violence victims were so traumatized by the experience that it would be impossible for them to find work within the two-year limit imposed by the incoming Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program.
So Murray cleverly devised a loophole called the “Family Violence Option.” Under the FVO, welfare recipients would be screened for partner abuse and referred for counseling. These persons would then be exempted from the 24-month time limit.
What compassionate conservative could argue against that?
But like many progressive programs, the devil was lurking in the details. And how did the law define “family violence”? The Social Security Act defines family violence as “physical acts that resulted in, or threatened to result in, physical injury to the individual.”
But keep reading, because it turns out the drafters of the law tucked in two seemingly harmless words near the end of the definition: “mental abuse.” Exactly what does that mean?
Well, if you live in North Carolina, engaging in “mind games” is enough to get you pegged as an abuser, according to the state welfare office. Acting like the “Master of the Castle” could get you into hot water, as well.
And if your partner is indulging in welfare fraud, don’t threaten to report him or her to the authorities — that will also qualify you as a batterer. (Think I’m spoofing? Do a web search for Family Support and Child Welfare Services form “DSS-6965” and see for yourself.)
In other states, discouraging your mate from “leaving your home, traveling to work, or visiting your family or friends” will get you on the Naughty List of your local abuse shelter. And according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, partner violence also includes — ready for this? — “getting annoyed if the victim disagrees” and “withholding information from the victim.”
Given the utter vagueness of these questions, it comes as no surprise that welfare applicants are not required to provide proof of violence. After all, how could any woman be expected to prove her husband had subjected her to brutal mind attacks?
According to the GAO report State Approaches to Screening for Domestic Violence Could Benefit from HHS Guidance, “25 states do not require evidence beyond a client’s statement in order to grant a waiver from work requirements.” In New York, for example, state law only requires the putative victim to provide a “sworn statement alleging abuse.”
And as we know, Welfare Queens always swear by the truth.
“Most states provide waivers indefinitely,” reveals a 2003 Congressional Research Service report, Welfare Law and Domestic Violence. So once you’re in, you’re pretty much set for the duration.
Removing such work requirements clearly obviates the very purpose of welfare reform. And how many greenbacks do American taxpayers shell out to subsidize Sen. Murray’s Family Violence Option scheme?
Turns out, the information is extraordinarily hard to come by. That’s because a little-known provision in the 1996 welfare reform law threatens any bureaucrat who outs such information with 20 lashes by a three-legged reindeer — or so it would appear.
However, an extensive Internet search by my intrepid research assistant turned up FVO budget numbers in these states:
- Alabama: $946,000
- Nevada: $608,000
- Ohio: $590,000
- Texas: $2,936,000
These numbers average out to $1.3 million per state. Multiplied by 50 states, this means American taxpayers are shelling out $63 million dollars to thwart the on-going epidemic of debilitating mind games.
So if you’re a victim of partner abuse and you’ve decided it’s high time to hang out on Easy Street, remember the old liberal saw: “We’re from the government, and we’re here to help you.”