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Rep. Gwen Moore (D-WI) and other House Democrats strongly objected to the renaming of a subcommittee because the new name contained the term “welfare.”
During a procedural meeting of the House Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday, a number of Democratic members asked why the “Subcommittee on Worker and Family Support” would be renamed the “Subcommittee on Work and Welfare.” Republican leaders, noting that the name of the subcommittee has changed five times in the past three decades, said that the shift reflected the urgency of addressing labor shortages by promoting workforce participation. Democrats nevertheless accused them of racially motivated intentions.
“I find it amazing that this committee would deliberately add a pejorative to the names of the subcommittees,” Moore remarked. “It is not true that denying people benefits would enable them to escape poverty – no. The American Rescue Plan is what kept people who were poor from falling into deep, deep poverty.”
Ways and Means Committee Chair Jason Smith (R-MO) responded that “the focus that we are going to have is to try to uplift people out of poverty” and contended that “the best way to uplift people out of poverty is with work.” When Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA) asked whether Smith was trying to “shame people” who accept welfare, Smith responded that he had difficulty with taking the concern seriously given the rhetorical manipulation advanced by Democrats.
“This is clearly about the words and definitions,” he added. “Your party is one that we don’t know if you can say man or woman, birthing person or mother. It’s clearly about work and welfare.”
Democrats have indeed provoked controversy by using the term “birthing people” in official capacities, including the first budget proposal offered by President Joe Biden. The purpose of the change was to support those who identify as transgender or “nonbinary,” although opponents contend that the phrase is demeaning toward women.
Rep. Danny Davis (D-IL) concurred with Moore that the name change has racial implications. “As an African American and ranking member of this subcommittee, what was ‘Family Support,’ I want to record my strong opposition to the change of the title ‘Work and Welfare.’ It is my hope that this title was not intended to be racially offensive, but in reality it really is,” he commented. “The term ‘welfare’ is a deeply pejorative term in our country that many people use to describe individuals who want to game the system.”
Rep. Darin LaHood (R-IL) called the conversation “silly” and said that the committee had more urgent matters to address. “It seems to me a bit of a fabricated controversy,” he remarked. “I hope we can get beyond this and get to the work that needs to get done.”
Moore emphatically insisted that the name change was malevolent and accused Smith of prejudice. “Ronald Reagan really used it exclusively to describe the ‘welfare queen’ who had numerous names, Social Security numbers, different husbands, different welfare checks,” she said. “You know doggone well that it has not changed to be the dog whistle that it was there. It’s a foghorn at this point. And you know, Mr. Chairman, that the intent of this change, however many times it is changed, is to cast aspersions on the people who are served.”
Moore added that she should wear her “welfare queen tiara” to future meetings. “We know what the intent of the use of this word is,” she continued. “You’re telling us right now that the whole focus of this subcommittee is going to be demonizing particularly women who have children, and I don’t appreciate it.”
As noted by Smith and other members of the committee, labor shortages have increased the urgency among lawmakers to address welfare reform. Even as there exist roughly 10.5 million job openings and 5.7 million unemployed individuals across the economy, according to a report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, families with neither parent working can receive welfare benefits worth more than six figures per year in multiple states, according to a study from the Committee to Unleash Prosperity.