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Ronald Reagan on Welfare & Poverty

President of the U.S., 1981-1989; Republican Governor (CA)


1964: Early advocate against LBJ's Great Society

[In 1964], the terms of engagement were being set for a longer battle. Conservatives often say it began when a Hollywood actor, who was co-chairman of Californians for Barry Goldwater, made a nationally televised last-ditch appeal for the GOP presidential nominee: "They use terms like the 'Great Society,' or as we were told a few days ago by the president, we must accept a greater government activity in the affairs of the people," Ronald Reagan said. "A government can't control the economy without controlling people. And they know when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose."

Goldwater's campaign was astonished when its switchboard lit up with calls pledging money, Reagan later wrote. "The speech raised $8 million and soon changed my entire life." In the 1970s, the conservative movement took over the Republican Party; Reagan was elected president in 1980--in part, on his promise to dismantle much of the Great Society.

Source: Washington Post, "Great Society 50th Anniversary" , Jan 8, 2014

Switch from project-based to tenant-based subsidy program

In 1983 Congress finally agreed with the Reagan administration that the Section 8 program was too costly. The Housing and Urban-Rural Recovery Act of 1983 repealed the authorization for Section 8--for example, new construction and substantial rehabilitation--but left other moderate rehabilitation and elderly projects (Section 202). Most importantly, conservatives switched from project-based assistance under Section 8 to housing vouchers and certificates, or a tenant-based subsidy program. The tenants could choose their own apartment with a voucher or certificate--they finally had a choice!
Source: Agenda For America, by Haley Barbour, p.113 , Apr 25, 1996

Cut back AFDC & other targeted poverty programs

But there were millions of Americans for whom it was not “morning again in America.” Reagan recognized this, though he rarely made the concession. He was an apostle of the marketplace whose premise had always been that the U.S. economic pie should be enlarged, not that everyone should receive an equal slice.

Despite the sea of happy children’s faces that graced the “feel-good” commercials, poverty exploded in the inner cities of America during the Reagan years, claiming children as its principal victims. The reason for this suffering was that programs targeted to low-income families, such as AFDC, were cut back far more than programs such as Social Security. As a result of cuts in such targeted programs-including school lunches and subsidized housing-federal benefit programs for households with incomes of less than $10,000 a year declined nearly 8% during the Reagan first term while federal aid for households with more than $40,000 income was almost unchanged.

Source: The Role of a Lifetime, by Lou Cannon, p. 516-17 , Jul 2, 1991

Championed “workfare” as California Governor

Governor Reagan opposed Nixon’s proposal for reforming welfare. Reagan resisted efforts to pressure California into increasing cost-of-living payments to welfare recipients. In 1971, Reagan worked out a compromise. He brought California into compliance with federal regulations, and Nixon promised not to stand in the way of a pilot program requiring able-bodied welfare recipients to work as a condition of receiving aid. The program had mixed success but established Reagan as the champion of “workfare.”
Source: The Role of a Lifetime, by Lou Cannon, p. 74-75 , Jul 2, 1991

Many homeless choose to be; ACLU fosters homelessness

I asked, “What about the homeless? Do you think you could have done anything for them?”

Reagan said, “Well, it’s been so exaggerated. Millions, there aren’t millions. Real research reveals probably 300,000 or less, nationwide. And a lot of those are the type of people that have made that choice. For example, more than 40% of them are retarded, mentally deficient people, that is the result of the ACLU. Look at the girl in NY who went to court after Koch had ordered her to get off the street and be put in a shelter. She went to court and actually fought, under her Constitutional rights, to go on living in that cardboard box on the street.“

Source: Dutch, by Edmund Morris, p.645-646 , Jan 9, 1988

Development zones to reverse decline of our cities

Q: The decline of our cities has been hastened by the continual rise in crime, strained race relations, the persistence of abnormal poverty in a rich nation. What would you do to reverse this trend?

REAGAN: In the inner-city areas, that in cooperation with local government and with National Government, and using tax incentives and with cooperation with the private sector, that we have development zones. Let the local entity, the city, declare this particular area, based on the standards of the percentage of people on welfare, unemployed, and so forth, in that area. And then, through tax incentives, induce the creation of businesses providing jobs and so forth in those areas. Through these tax incentives, a business that would not have, for a period of time, an increase in the property tax reflecting its development of the unused property that it was making wouldn't be any loss to the city, because the city isn't getting any tax from that now.

Source: The Reagan-Carter Presidential Debate , Oct 28, 1980

As CA Governor, opposed AFDC as rewarding lack of work

[As Governor, Reagan addressed] California’s exploding welfare system. “Here in California,” he warned, “nearly a million children are growing up in the stultifying atmosphere of programs that reward people for not working, programs that separate families and doom these children to repeat the cycle in their own adulthood.”

Reagan had especial contempt for government touts whose job performance was appraised by the length of their welfare client lists. “They go out and actually recruit people to be on welfare,“ he complained. His prejudice against AFDC was practical as well as moral. He believed it discriminated against the destitute-by encouraging the shiftless to promiscuity.

The California Welfare Reform Act became law in August 1971. Reagan called it ”probably the most comprehensive“ such initiative in American history. It had an inspirational effect on welfare policy across America, but Reagan would have to wait until 1996 before his basic dream, the repeal of AFDC, became a reality

Source: Dutch, by Edmund Morris, p. 368-9 & 376 , Jan 4, 1971

  • Click here for definitions & background information on Welfare & Poverty.
  • Click here for VoteMatch responses by Ronald Reagan.
  • Click here for AmericansElect.org quiz by Ronald Reagan.
Other past presidents on Welfare & Poverty: Ronald Reagan on other issues:
Former Presidents:
George W. Bush(R,2001-2009)
Bill Clinton(D,1993-2001)
George Bush Sr.(R,1989-1993)
Ronald Reagan(R,1981-1989)
Jimmy Carter(D,1977-1981)
Gerald Ford(R,1974-1977)
Richard Nixon(R,1969-1974)
Lyndon Johnson(D,1963-1969)
John F. Kennedy(D,1961-1963)
Dwight Eisenhower(R,1953-1961)
Harry S Truman(D,1945-1953)

Past Vice Presidents:
V.P.Dick Cheney
V.P.Al Gore
V.P.Dan Quayle
Sen.Bob Dole
V.P.Walter Mondale

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Energy/Oil
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Welfare/Poverty

Page last updated: Jul 05, 2014