It's a video clip of NC Speaker of the House Thom Tillis, (R-Mecklenburg County) speaking recently to supporters, advocating for entitlement reform.
And he is honest. According to Tillis, what we have to do is find a way to divide and conquer the people who are on assistance. We have to show respect for that woman who has cerebral palsy, and had no choice in her condition - that needs help, and that we should help - and we need to get those folks to look down at these people who choose to get into a condition that makes them dependent on the government. And say: at some point, you're on your own. We may end up taking care of those babies, but we're not going to take care of you.
Wait, wait. Hold on. I'm being unfair to Tillis; I've put his ideas into such crude and judgmental terms that I'm bordering on being disrespectful No public servant could be that obtuse about the complexities of poverty and public assistance. That's probably not exactly what he meant, and I shouldn't put words in his mouth. Let me go back and listen again, and transcribe exactly what Tillis said, word for word. Then you can compare it to what I wrote above.
According to Tillis, "what we have to do is find a way to divide and conquer the people who are on assistance. We have to show respect for that woman who has cerebral palsy, and had no choice in her condition - that needs help, and that we should help - and we need to get those folks to look down at these people who choose to get into a condition that makes them dependent on the government. And say: at some point, you're on your own. We may end up taking care of those babies, but we're not going to take care of you."
Okay, so I was quoting him directly. But again, as unsettling as this is to listen to, Tillis has a right to a point of view.
What he doesn't have a right to do though, is lie, through statement or omission. He doesn't have a right to knowingly exploit the trust of his constituents and assist them in maintaining an untrue vision.
Tillis has been a North Carolina State Legislator for over five years. He has claimed entitlement reform as a personal cause. It's perplexing then when he demonstrates less than a layperson's understanding of the difference between disability, welfare or unemployment. But much more disturbing is observing him moving artfully, deceitfully, from presenting proposals and points of view to suggesting and reinforcing falsehoods. Tillis cannot have been a legislator this long, identifying himself as an advocate for change on this very issue, without knowing the basic facts about our state's version of TANF; NC Work First. It would be inexcusable for him to be this ill-informed about the program, and unconscionable for him to be this proactively misleading about it, so there is no acceptable explanation for what he presents here.
The myth of the able-bodied young woman hanging out on welfare, answering to no one, having more babies to increase her benefits was never realistic, but it became less than possible nearly two decades ago. Massive federal welfare reform laws were signed into effect in the mid-nineties by President Bill Clinton. The most important aspect of this reform was to solidify work requirements and establish stricter time limits.
Tillis knows this.
While the work requirements and some other aspects are defined at the federal level, a lot of responsibility for program design and administration was turned over to the states. So it's possible that somewhere in the country, there is a state that has found a way to be more lenient in its application of federal standards. Considering the reforms were expressly designed to rectify weaknesses in the welfare system that seemed to encourage generational poverty, it's unlikely. And certainly in NC, since well before Speaker Tillis was elected, these programs were transformed into time-limited, employment-focused programs, providing subsistence-level monies, requiring participation in job training and budgeting counseling, with a focus on moving towards independence, and a clock on eligibility that is not restarted with the addition of new family members. No one is bringing darling little bundles of dollar signs home from the hospital. A newborn baby can add roughly $90 a month to benefits, which are calculated partly by family size, but that amount only offsets the additional expenses a baby brings. In most cases, benefits will still remain under $1000 a month.
Tillis knows this.
So when one gentleman in Tillis's audience raises his hand to suggest that there should be some modicum of follow-up on the county level when people are given government money, some kind of system in which government officials could at least take a look at beneficiaries, and ask them some questions from time to time, Tillis knows but does not say that in fact, NC Work First goes much further than that. Program oversight is very structured and strict. It relies on much more than a once-over by staff to assess whether beneficiaries are keeping their nails clean and their shirts ironed. The gentleman with the concern said, "The county - DSS in each county - ought to be required to bring the people in periodically and see what they're doing and question them, see if they're trying to find a job, what kind of shape they're in. You can look at somebody and find out a lot about them." Tillis's inscrutable response; "I don't understand it... everybody says it's because they're all looking for jobs. Folks..." whereupon he launches into a bizarre proposition that people on unemployment have plenty of time on their hands and ought to be required to do 15 hours of community service a week.
At the end of the clip, there is a moment of humor for the discerning viewer as Tillis squirms away from the suggestion by another audience member that all state employees, (which would include Tillis) be drug-tested. But most of it is grim, as this state representative uses populist fabrication to encourage class distrust. Does Thom Tillis want to solve problems in North Carolina? Does he even misguidedly want to "create a sense of responsibility and obligation on the part of people receiving welfare" as he says at one point, or does he just want to push buttons and inflame people, who will then look at him as a hero?
You be the judge.