Author: Tom Corbett

ISBN: 978-1-94800-23-9

Tom Corbett, author ofConfessions Of A Wayward Academic, is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison (BS, MS, PhD). (2018, pgs.609-10). Dr. Corbett taught courses on social policy there during his educational pursuits in the School of Social Work. He sat on the expert panel for the National Academy of Sciences where he helped to evaluate welfare reform and other poverty related issues. He has worked for the government as a senior policy advisor for the US Department of Health and Human Services under President Clinton. He has published nine books in a variety of genres prior to this one and co-authored two others. He is retired and lives in Madison, Wisconsin.

Corbett on page 17 (2018) advises the reader that this is not a book about social policy per sae, but his personal memoir regarding his professional endeavors. This is the second one on this topic. His first was published in 2014. (Browsing through My Candy Store) The first touched more on the practice of public policy and is recapped in Chapter 1.

Corbett had been associate Director for the Institute for Research on Poverty (IRP). It was funded federally and was university based. Their major premise of their research and evaluation was evaluating the War on Poverty. Corbett got his first taste of government during this timeframe. He had occasion to testify before Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan who was also somewhat of a welfare expert. It was here that he fell in love with public policy and began to devote himself entirely to it.

One of his first tests was to determine the requirements for TANF as it pertained to Welfare. He noted some anomalies between the state of Wisconsin and the Federal government guidelines for determining validity of assets. Who would have thunk that there was an asset or lack thereof criteria for entrance into this program. To which Corbett says, “…The intent was to ensure that only the truly destitute obtained aid and thus meet the goal of target efficiency where benefits were directed to the truly needy.” (2018, p.75)

Probably not an isolated opinion Corbett says that in 1986 the welfare problem was cast as being “,,,increasingly considered an urban-Black phenomenon.” (2018, p.148) Wisconsin, at this time, paid more out in welfare than other states nearby so it became a magnet of sorts for those seeking aid.

When finally Corbett came to work under President Clinton he notes that things in the Welfare arena had become so far from what it was conceived to do that it was a slog to try to find how to rein it in. He set about collecting data across Wisconsin and then widened his net. He was pretty green in this field so there was a learning curve and adjustment period as well. His first proposal had to do with the Food Stamp Program to which he states it was “…incredibly complicated.” (2018, p.103) While analyzing these programs he noted that many of their methodologies were seriously flawed. However, reporting such would have created a disaster greater than the one he sought to right.

This book is jam packed with information at the state and federal levels for poverty and welfare assistance and proposals on how to revamp them. Corbett is very qualified to write on such topics. The term welfare had become such a boondoggle that many think tanks and other organizations did not want to use names that had any affiliation with it, but isn’t that a big like not addressing the pink elephant in the room?

Welfare remains an albatross, at both the state and federal level, despite many well intending agencies coming together to evaluate it as it exists and learn from ineffective methodologies. While conversations on this topic over time might have been stimulating they fell short on how to address and overcome the systemic abuses of the system as it is. Part of the problem is that there are too many disjointed agencies claiming to do the same or similar things. I.e. TANF and SNAP. Another hinderance is what Corbett calls the “failure to communicate challenge.” (2018, p.302) To which he adds, “It concentrates on the failure of those who are supposed to be producing knowledge to bring what they discover to those who might best use it.”

While I understand that this, welfare reform, is a complex issue and there are no simple fixes it should be the goal of all of our citizenry to take a look at how our states manage such programs and how we might progress in unraveling them such that all of our population can be considered willing participants in our workforce relinquishing our need to sustain huge budgets for impoverished people.

I enjoyed, as much as one can, learning more about poverty and how policy shapes those programs. If you care about the poor and want to learn what has been done to see if more can be done this might be a good place to begin.