TANF: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver | Transcript

John Oliver discusses TANF – a federal program designed to help families with little to no income – who’s currently receiving these vital funds, who should be receiving them, and what it all has to do with Brett Favre.
TANF: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver

Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Season 10 Episode 4
Aired on March 12, 2023

Main segment: Misuse of TANF Program Funds
Other segment: Anti-Drag Legislation in Tennessee

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♪ ♪ ♪ ♪ [Cheers and applause]

John: Welcome, welcome, welcome to “Last Week Tonight!” I’m John Oliver. Thank you so much for joining us. It’s been a busy week. The Manhattan DA signaled Trump may soon be charged over the Stormy Daniels payments and Silicon Valley bank collapsed, in one of the largest bank failures in U.S. history. But if I may quote god on judgment day, I’d like to start with Fox News. The network that answers the question, “what was on tv when grampa died?” We talked a few weeks ago about the fact that dominion voting systems is suing Fox over its false claims that Dominion’s machines helped swing the election for Biden. Thanks to that lawsuit, this week, we learned that even Rupert Murdoch was concerned about the tone some of his anchors were taking.

In an email to CEO Suzanne Scott, Murdoch wrote, “maybe Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham went too far.” And when Dominion lawyers asked during his January deposition, “have you ever believed Dominion was engaged in a massive and coordinated effort to steal the 2020 presidential election?” Murdoch replied, “no.”

John: Wow, just a straight up “no” from Murdoch. Although he’s Australian, so it was probably more of a “nah.” And I will say, of course Sean Hannity and Laura Ingraham went too far. That’s their whole thing. Laura delivers every monologue with the energy of a concussed PTA parent and Hannity spews bullshit while looking like one big neck. You made these monsters. You don’t get to act surprised, Rupert. And it’s not just Murdoch. Texts from Tucker Carlson show that, for all his on-air defenses of Trump, privately, he was telling a very different story.

Fox hosts, including Tucker Carlson, were increasingly uncomfortable with the way that Trump was lying about the 2020 election. “We are very, very close to being able to ignore Trump most nights. I truly can’t wait,” Carlson texted an unknown person on January 4th, 2021, adding, “I hate him passionately.”

John: Okay, first? I can’t believe I’m saying this. But girl, same. But also, that’s so harsh, I’d almost feel bad for Trump if I wasn’t so sure he’s incapable of feeling anything besides anger, hunger, and the lower back of the nearest blonde woman. And it gets even worse. Because Tucker goes on to say, of Trump’s time in office, “we’re all pretending we’ve got a lot to show for it because admitting what a disaster it’s been is too tough to digest. But come on, there isn’t really an upside to Trump.” And wow. A man on a “news network” can’t be afraid to tell the truth because it’s “too tough to digest.” That is what the news is. If anchors didn’t report what was too tough to digest, Walter Cronkite would have opened his most famous broadcast with, “the president had a lovely car ride in Dallas today. His head feels better than ever!” And I’m sure more details will spill out of this case in the months ahead. So for now, we’re going to turn to Tennessee, where this week, the state legislature made the worst kind of history.

This week Tennessee became the first state to pass a law that will restrict drag performances on public property or anywhere a child could see them. Conservatives say drag shows expose children to sexually suggestive content, while performers here say the law is discriminatory, and feels designed to push them back into the closet.

John: Yeah, conservatives have singled out drag shows as exposing children to sexually suggestive content. Which feels like a very selective application of outrage. I’m just saying, unless they’ve also called out Carl’s Jr. Ads, this entire restaurant chain, and Gloria’s relentless butt in the “Madagascar” films, that feels pretty targeted. This comes on the back of a number of anti-LGBTQ bills, all done under senate leader and lieutenant governor Randy McNally. A man with a history of supporting anti-gay legislation, including restricting marriage to between a man and a woman. All of which makes what emerged about McNally this week especially hard to take.

Over the last three years, the lieutenant governor has been regularly commenting on these extremely racy pictures of an influencer. Everything from typing out fire emojis where the male user had posted his backside to commenting that he has quote “a super look” and that he loves his content.

John: Okay, first, there’s nothing wrong with commenting on a 20-year old gay model’s thirst traps. But there is a problem if you’re, a, 79 years old. B, are a sitting member of government that helped pass anti-gay legislation. And c, leave comments like “you are having a grand time my friend.” Because yes, he clearly is having a grand time, but that’s frankly no thanks to people like you, randy! McNally’s office rushed out a statement, saying, “as anyone in Tennessee politics knows, lieutenant governor McNally is a prolific social media commenter,” “does he always use the proper emoji at the proper time? Maybe not. But he enjoys interacting with constituents and Tennesseans of all religions, backgrounds, and orientations on social media.” Adding, “he has no intention of stopping.” Which, if it came from anyone else, would be an iconic response. “I am horny on main, and will stay that way till the day I die?” It’s exquisite. But the best response to that statement came from Franklyn, the young man at the center of all this. Because the outlet that initially broke the story interviewed Franklyn to get his reaction.

I like that he has no intentions of stopping, I think that’s nice, but you know, I would still, I would just say, why be kind to one gay person and not everyone?

The idea that Randy’s now gonna hide behind, “oh, I’m just a great-grandfather, I don’t know about emojis.” I mean, you know when you’re looking at a butt, governor McNally. And you knew whose butt it was.

But maybe he liked the lime green color!

John: Yeah, maybe, Franklyn! I’ve gotta say, McNally is lucky he was commenting on the photos of someone so kind. Franklyn even responded to McNally’s three hearts and fire emojis with “you are literally always so nice king,” when he’d have been well within his rights to say, “you are 59 years older than me and you’re systematically trampling my rights. Blocked, reported, and I’m throwing my phone into the sea.” Incredibly, McNally actually sat down for an interview amid all this, saying, “I, you know, try to encourage people with posts.” Which is certainly a nice thing to do! But doesn’t seem to capture all of what was going on, especially when you consider some of the posts in question.

There was also this post where the man said he was, quote, “not a whore but a hoe, one is a slut, the other is a prostitute,” adding I’m the one that gets free weed for giving, then a reference to a sexual act.

And it was liked by lieutenant governor McNally.

Yeah, I don’t know that — you know, a lot of times on some people’s posts you see the name and you see what they’ve written, and you just press the button that says “like.”

So you didn’t read that post?

I don’t recall reading the part about the, the uh, weed. I know that.

But what about the “prostitute”?

I might have, I might have read that.

John: Randy! Randy! Randy! Did a witch put a spell on you? I genuinely appreciate the transparency, but you know you could just say no, right? Nobody would believe you any more or less than they already do. Also, for what it’s worth, the weed part is just not what anyone is interested in here. And look, I can’t say for certain what’s going on with that guy, but I will say whenever stories like this come up, and they do seem to come up a lot, of republican lawmakers championing anti-gay legislation, only for it to emerge they may have, let’s call them, “gay-adjacent extracurricular activities,” it’s hard not to feel a mixture of emotions. First, hilarity at the hypocrisy. Then, anger. Then, a slight sense of sadness. Because these are men who, you feel, could’ve had happier lives if they’d grown up in a different world. But instead of helping create that different world, they’ve courted the approval of homophobes who are intent on holding it back. And if that is the case for McNally, it all feels like such a waste, including the fact that “Randy McNally” is just an a+ drag queen name. And honestly, in the end, it doesn’t really matter what McNally’s deal is, if he’s pushing for laws that hurt people. Randy, if you’d invest half the energy you spend commenting on photos of queer people being happy, into making a world where that happiness is not under constant threat, that would literally be so nice, king. And now this.

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Announcer: and now, happy International Women’s Day from the men of local news.

Happy International Women’s Day to you and to meteorologist Stephanie who is with us. My favorite girl.

It’s International Women’s Day.

I’m Patrick Lytle, let’s check in with the other women on the staff.

Every day is International Women’s Day as far as I’m concerned.

Shout out to all the woman in my life, my wife, two step girls, the two female dogs as well. My mother.

Not only is it International Women’s Day.

You haven’t said anything yet.


For Women’s Day.

Oh, am I supposed to? Is there an International Man’s Day?

Happy Women’s Day.

National Women’s Day.

Yeah, we too.

We are women.

Okay. My favorite women. I am sorry, I am sorry. Hey, girls, my girls, but you know, we are friends, my peeps, my — you know.


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John: Moving on. Our main story tonight concerns TANF. It’s a commonly used acronym that in Britain stands for “that asshole Nigel Farage.” But in this country, it stands for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a federal program designed to help families with little to no income. TANF is an absolutely vital resource, and also the program underneath Mississippi’s spectacular ongoing scandals involving former quarterback Brett Favre.

NFL hall of famer Brett Favre is under growing pressure tonight. As a new court filing says the former football star waged a campaign to aggressively lobby, for millions of dollars from the state welfare agency, to finish building a volleyball facility at his alma mater, the University of Southern Mississippi, where his daughter played the sport.

John: That’s right, Brett Favre was involved in getting $5 million dollars in TANF funds funneled into building this volleyball stadium. And I’m a little surprised you even need a stadium to play volleyball in. I thought it was a sport mainly played outdoors by sexually frustrated men who aren’t wearing shirts and sporty dogs who unexpectedly are. But clearly, I was wrong about that. But Favre’s role in this scandal went far beyond volleyball. He’s also alleged to have helped get around $2 million of TANF dollars routed to a pharmaceutical company that he invested in, and personally received over a million more for the promise he’d make public appearances or record PSA’s. And in his text messages to a central figure in the scheme, a woman named Nancy New, Favre seemed eager to keep the details of this deal private.

Texts show Favre was worried about how it might look. He wrote, “if you were to pay me, is there any way the media can find out where it came from and how much?” New replied, “no.” But added, “I understand you being uneasy about that.”

John: Yeah, me too! But, Brett, I have some terrible news for you. The media did find out. That’s what’s happening right now. But the Favre part of the story is just the tip of the iceberg here. Because amazingly, from 2016 to 2019, at least $77 million dollars in federal welfare money was stolen or misspent in Mississippi. Six people have been criminally charged so far, with most pleading guilty, including the former director of the state’s welfare agency. This scandal is full of both bizarre details, and a weird number of former athletes, including retired WWE wrestler Ted “The Million Dollar Man” DiBiase, seen here in his heyday, looking very cool. DiBiase and his ministry apparently received nearly $2 million dollars to, among other things, create a phone app to reach troubled teens and send them bible verses, something that apparently never happened. Which is probably just as well, given that it’s hard to imagine this man helping any teen who’s in trouble. Unless the thing they’re having trouble with is figuring out what it would look like if Steven Seagal somehow aged even worse. And look, legally, I have to tell you that both Favre and DiBiase maintain they did nothing wrong, and have not been criminally charged. And Favre wants us to tell you that he returned the $1.1 million he was personally paid, and says he didn’t know any of the money was coming from welfare funds. Although, it’s not clear exactly where he thought the money was coming from. Perhaps he thinks there’s some pot of taxpayer money that he can just dip his sausage fingers into whenever he needs something. I don’t know. He’s been hit in the head a lot. Not enough, but a lot. But what’s not in dispute here is that, for years, there were people in Mississippi in dire need of help, who just couldn’t get it.

Tamara Edwards raised four children on her own in Mississippi, applying for welfare benefits just once, for childcare while she worked.

When I reapplied, I was not able to be on it again because they told me that they didn’t have the fundings for it.

John: That’s pretty infuriating to hear. And it gets even worse when you learn that, in Mississippi last year, of roughly 190,000 children living in poverty, just 2,600 were receiving money from TANF, while, remember, of the roughly one Brett Favres in Mississippi, 100% of them managed to get $5 million for this fucking volleyball stadium. It’s enough to make you want to see Brett Favre hit in the nuts with a football, and the good news is, I can actually help you there.

He was on the practice field this week and got hit in the not-so-friendly area. Oh! It takes him all the way down.

[Cheers and applause]

John: Good. I’m glad that happened. And by the way, kudos to the local news team for adding the “boing” sound effect. Excellent journalism. But it’s important to know that while what happened in Mississippi rose to criminal charges, in states all over the country, the TANF program has been abused for decades, and completely legally. In fact, nationwide, for every 100 families in poverty, only 21 received TANF cash assistance. Meaning we have a program that’s supposed to give money to families in desperate need, and four out of five of them just aren’t getting it. So tonight, let’s talk about TANF, and let’s start with why it’s so important. TANF is the only federal anti-poverty program that provides monthly cash assistance. That makes it very different from say, snap, formerly known as “food stamps,” because that can only be used to pay for food, whereas TANF funds, by contrast, can be used for all sorts of other necessities, from diapers, to toothpaste, to utility bills. So it can be an absolute lifeline for families. And the truth is, we’ve long known just how important cash assistance can be. In 1935, FDR pushed for the aid to dependent children program. And back then, the idea had broad support.

The welfare of the nation depends upon the welfare of its children! To provide for children who have lost their breadwinners, the state and federal government provide monthly cash payments so that these children may grow up at home with their own families. Aid for children who, as citizens of tomorrow, need the security of home today!

John: Wow! It’s genuinely refreshing to hear that kind of voice saying such nice things. Although given the time, I’m guessing if he’d kept talking, he would’ve said something like, “also, nothing calms a hysterical child like a good smack with a stick.” That program continued to have support for years, while — perhaps not coincidentally — it was primarily white families, like those you just saw, who were the ones using it. But as barriers preventing black families from participating began to fall, people suddenly began to panic about whether these programs might actually encourage laziness and dependency. And, to use America’s official slogan, Ronald Reagan made it worse! Because conservatives in the ’70s and ’80s, led by Reagan, pushed largely bullshit or cherry-picked narratives of fraud and abuse. It got to the point where, by the mid-’90s, one florida representative found this a completely acceptable way to talk about welfare recipients.

We post these signs for several reasons. First, because if left in a natural state, alligators can fend for themselves. They work, gather food, and care for their young. Secondly, we post these warnings because unnatural feeding and artificial care creates dependency. When dependency sets in, these otherwise abled alligators can no longer survive on their own. Now I know people are not alligators, but I submit to you that with our current handout, non-work welfare system, we’ve upset the natural order.

John: Okay. There is a lot to unpack there. From casually comparing poor people to animals, to claiming that alligators work, which begs the question, the fuck are you talking about? Alligators don’t have jobs! Unless you consider “looking like someone put a dragon baby into a panini press” to be a job, in which case, yes, they’re indeed working 24/7. Now at the time that asshole was speaking, the federal government had already begun allowing, and encouraging, states to experiment with various so-called “welfare-to-work” approaches, with the aim being to get as many people off government assistance as possible, and into the workforce. And back then, both democrats and republicans seized on what appeared to be a successful program in riverside county, California, that emphasized getting a job above all else, and was said to have increased participants’ earnings by nearly 50%. The man overseeing that program, Larry Townsend, was celebrated at the time. Even dubbed “the magic bureaucrat,” and was brought before congress to share the secrets to his success.

If you call riverside county, and nobody answers the phone, you’ll get a work ethic message. We have posters in the waiting room. We have produced a compact disc with work ethic music. One of the — the pieces of music is welfare is temporary, not a way of life, and it’s a beautiful piece of music.

John: Now, that’s actually true! Larry oversaw the production of this album of “work ethic music” they’d play in the office, and to people who were put on hold. Now, is he right to claim it was “a beautiful piece of music?” Well, why don’t you be the judge? Here’s a taste.

♪ Welfare’s temporary, not a way of life ♪
♪ be proud of honest labor ♪
♪ have dignity and pride ♪
♪ make the difference ♪
♪ start a career ♪
♪ success depends on you ♪
♪ get into gear ♪

John: You know, finally, we have a recording that answers the question: “what if “we are the world” fucked a cheap motivational poster?” And if you think every track on the album was confined to the genre of “pop soul ballad,” you’re wrong. Because they also did a dance number that, fair warning, really puts the “no” in “techno.”

♪ Welfare is temporary ♪
♪ it’s not a way of life ♪
♪ welfare, make it secondary ♪
♪ have dignity and pride ♪

John: I hate it so much. That song sounds like daft punk if it turned out the people under the masks were Kevin O’Leary and Mark Cuban. It’s genuinely difficult to stop talking about this album. Because what am I supposed to do here? Just move on to the rest of this story and not play you the hip hop track? That’d be ridiculous. Here it is!

♪ Work for it, work for it ♪
♪ turn your dreams into reality ♪
♪ work for it, work for it ♪
♪ become a money saver ♪
♪ work for it, work for it ♪
♪ cause you can get a job ♪

John: Admit it, admit it, you thought you knew how bad that was going to be, then you get to that last “cause you can get a job,” bit and it somehow gets worse. Now, interestingly, and importantly, later studies found that man’s program didn’t, in fact, succeed because of that album. Or, indeed, anything else he’d done. Instead, research suggested its success was a fluke, and actually the product of an already stronger local economy rather than any reforms. But the problem was, the whole concept of “welfare-to-work” had caught on in a big way. Bill Clinton campaigned aggressively on welfare reform, and once in office, worked with republicans to craft a bill that, he bragged when signing it, would move millions into the workforce.

Today we are ending welfare as we know it. But I hope this day will be remembered not for what it ended but for what it began.

John: Spoiler alert, it’s remembered for what it ended, not what it began. It’s genuinely hard to think of a clip from the Clinton era that’s aged worse, other than, of course, this one from his inaugural ball.

We’ll be there for you, we love you, thank you, god bless you all, thank you. And thank you, Kevin Spacey!

John: Yeah, yeah. Yeah. Pretty remarkable, right? That they let that sexual predator anywhere near Kevin Spacey?


The point is that Clinton’s welfare reform created the TANF program. And in doing so, it brought about some major, and catastrophic changes. First, it shifted the funding to a block grant. Basically, instead of the federal government having oversight and sharing the costs of the program, each year, it would just give states a lump sum of money. But in doing so, it crucially didn’t establish any mechanism to increase that sum over time, meaning the amount each state gets has not increased since 1996. And because it hasn’t been adjusted for inflation or population changes, the real value of the funding has actually fallen by 40% since then. So it wasn’t worth much in the mid-’90s, and it’s worth even less now. Think of it like a cassingle of Chumbawamba’s tubthumping. And I know if you’re under 30 you think I’m having a stroke, but I swear everything I just said is a real word. The big promise of these block grants was that they’d give states the flexibility to spend it however they felt worked best for them. The only real requirement was that it had to be used for at least one of four incredibly broad purposes. Providing assistance to needy families so that children can be cared for in their own homes or in the homes of relatives. Fine. Promoting job preparation, work, and marriage. Okay. Preventing and reducing the incidence of out-of-wedlock pregnancies. Seems a bit weird! And encouraging the formation and maintenance of two-parent families. So immediately, you can see that not only is some of that incredibly moralistic, it’s, crucially, a pretty broad mandate. And states have taken advantage of that latitude. For instance, some have appropriated TANF money for college scholarships that can end up going to middle-class students. Since 2007, Michigan has spent around $100 million dollars each year in welfare money on college aid, much of it benefiting families well above the poverty line. And the state has justified this by saying that college aid helps prevent out-of-wedlock pregnancies, which of course makes sense. College is famously a place where no one fucks. [Laughter] Meanwhile, Oklahoma was, at one point, spending millions in TANF dollars on marriage counseling classes, including one called “forever. For real.” Would you like to see an ad for it? Well, too bad, here it is!

It’s the most important decision you can make in your life, to marry somebody. So, you know, who wouldn’t want a closer and stronger relationship?

Once we decided that we were ready to move forward in our relationship, we wanted to protect what we had. And so, we decided to go to “forever. For real.” For an investment in us.

We know that our relationship won’t always be easy, but it will be forever.

“Forever. For real.” Now relationships come with instructions.

John: Wow. First, the chemistry between that couple is very much on the charts. And it doesn’t help that they tried to set the mood by lighting candles when the rest of the room is lit like the freezer aisle at a Kroger. One reporter who attended one of those classes found participants were shocked to learn they’d been paid for with welfare dollars, because they considered themselves, “pretty good” and “financially stable.” But because, remember, supporting a two-parent household is one of the four purposes TANF funds can be used for, what Oklahoma did is completely legal. And while they eventually ended that program in 2016, that was only after 17 years of spending TANF dollars on it. And at its absolute worst, TANF money can be used in actively harmful ways, like funding crisis pregnancy centers. We’ve talked about them before on this show. They’re basically fake abortion clinics designed to persuade people to see pregnancies through to term, often by propagating misinformation. And yet, at least 10 states have siphoned millions of TANF dollars to pay for them. Up until last year, Texas had directed $45 million in TANF funds to these clinics. And just listen to some of the misinformation one of them was telling people.

At a center in the Dallas area, a volunteer told our producer they don’t offer abortions, adding, “abortions can cause infertility.” When asked about the abortion pill, the volunteer said, “my job is not to scare you. You never get over seeing that baby.” She then pointed to a small plastic model like this saying, “can you imagine one of these in your panties?”

John: Holy shit! Your tax dollars, which were meant to help poor families, instead went to someone uttering the single grossest sentence in the history of words, the only proper response to which is, “can you imagine how much of a weirdo you’d have to be to say the word panties to a stranger while showing them your collection of Russian nesting fetuses?” And look, I’m not saying states don’t give any TANF funds to needy families. But in many cases, they seem pretty far down the list of priorities. In Oklahoma, site of those sterile marriage classes, the state was spending just 9% of its TANF block grant on cash assistance. And one way states manage to keep their TANF rolls incredibly lean is to set the barrier to access them insurmountably high. In more than 25 states, a family of three living at half the federal poverty line earns too much to qualify for TANF. Which is absurd. Just listen to these women in Mississippi, who were told they were too rich to qualify.

We are the people. We are who those programs are supposed to help. And they’re not helping us.

When you were rejected for TANF for making too much money, how much were you making?”

It couldn’t have been any more than $11 an hour.

I was actually making $9 and I was denied — how do I make too much money with three kids, rent, utilities, transportation, like, how do I make too much money?

John: Yeah, that’s a great question. Because it’s ridiculous that a parent of three struggling to make ends meet has “too much money” to receive TANF assistance, while the state was more than happy to shovel cash toward both Brett Favre and Ted DiBiase, a wrestler whose signature pose is “hey, everyone! I just robbed an atm.” But it’s not just that the income threshold can be prohibitively low. It’s that the application process itself can be deeply invasive. For instance, states are required to offset any TANF money they give to single mothers by chasing down the biological fathers for child support. Money the government then often keeps for itself. So in some states, single mothers applying for public assistance are forced to identify the father of their child, his eye color, his license plate number, and the exact date when they got pregnant, often under penalty of perjury. Which is the most humiliating way to identify the father of your child that doesn’t involve Maury fucking Povich. But there’s one more twist here. Because even if you qualify and are able to get assistance, it can be extremely easy to then lose it. Not only do some states set time limits for how long you can get TANF, Arizona kicks you off after just a year. The money comes with an obligation to perform “work activities”, like job searching and training, that recipients have to engage in for a certain number of hours each week. But for struggling parents — which this program is for — remember, that can be very difficult, especially if they don’t have access to childcare.

I’ve lost the cash assistance three or four times due to the fact that, you know, no transportation, nobody to watch my son, they — they want you to go looking for work. How do you take a kid into a job and ask for an application?

John: Right, it’s not easy to take your kid along into a job interview. That’s why most job applications don’t come with a bonus big maze and a crayon. And it’s not like her state welfare office is unaware that she has a child. They know that. They may even know the exact date he was conceived for some fucking reason. And if you fail to meet your obligations, states can be pretty unforgiving in cutting you off. Just listen to one woman who was kicked off assistance, despite having an objectively solid excuse.

Kimberly Thompson spent two and a half months in the hospital last summer, after an infection ravaged her body. Nearly half of that time, she was in a coma. Adding insult to injury, though, while she was comatose, the county kicked her off government assistance.

Well I was in a coma and I didn’t report in, and I was supposed to report in once a week — so, since I didn’t report in, they just cut it all off.

John: Wow, finding out you’ve lost your government assistance has got to be one of the worst things you could possibly hear when waking up from a coma along with “actually, we call him president trump now,” and “most of the dogs you knew are dead.” And the thing is, all of this — the multiple hoops you have to jump through before getting assistance, and the requirements you have to meet to keep it — is for an abysmally small amount of money. In 15 states, cash benefit levels don’t even reach 20% of the poverty line, which is about $386 for a family of three per month. And if you’re thinking, “well, maybe states just don’t have the money,” not only have you seen the bullshit some of them spend it on instead, but you should know. Perhaps the most shocking thing some states spend TANF money on is “absolutely nothing at all.” As of last year, states were sitting on $5.2 billion dollars in unspent TANF funds. Tennessee alone was hoarding $790 million, the largest pool of unspent welfare funds in the country. You know, like the famous saying goes, “everything’s bigger in Tennessee, no wait, fuck, that’s Texas. Oh no, why is someone writing down everything I’m saying? Scratch that from the record I sound like an idiot. Why are you still writing? Stop. I’m serious. Stop. If you don’t stop writing I’ll fuck you up so silly you’ll be holding pens in your mouth, bitch!” Ruth Bader Ginsburg. And when you put all this together, it’s no wonder that most people on TANF don’t, in fact, go from welfare to work. In 2018, only 1 in 4 TANF cases closed because clients found jobs. By and large, the rest were kicked off for one of the many bullshit reasons we’ve mentioned tonight. Basically, TANF lifts people out of poverty the same way one of those arcade claw games lifts stuffed animals out of the machine, which is to say, it usually just drops them right back where they started, and in many ways, the whole process is a giant “fuck you” to kids. Now, the good news is, there are things we could do here, if we wanted to. We’ve talked before about some of the big, broader changes that would help alleviate the pain of poverty. But even when it just comes to TANF, there are options. We could set a minimum benefit level, and loosen some of the requirements that make it so easy to lose assistance. And if we’re going to keep doing block grants — which I would argue we absolutely shouldn’t — they should at least be adjusted for inflation and population growth, with a certain amount required to be spent on direct cash assistance. Look, the wild thing is, our current system was created under the assumption that poor families simply couldn’t be trusted to collect welfare honestly. But the past couple of decades have proven that’s it’s actually politicians and government officials who’ve been relentlessly abusing the system. To borrow a phrase, we’ve been feeding the alligators in state government, and that has bred dependency. So we need to fundamentally rework things, so this money and ideally much more can go where it’s badly needed. And if any lawmakers think that sounds too hard, and are tempted to take a pass on that, I have a song with a powerful message that I’m pretty sure will inspire you.

♪ Work for it, work for it ♪
♪ turn your dreams into reality ♪
♪ work for it, work for it ♪

Exactly. And now this.

* * *

Announcer: And now, the humble beginnings of Rachael Ray.

When I was a girl, I was a fountain girl at Howard Johnson’s. Back in the day I was a hotel fountain girl. I was a fountain girl at Howard Johnson’s. When I was a kid I used to work at Hojo’s, Howard Johnson’s. Oh, my god, I feel like I was working in Hojo’s back in the day. Like a big old ice cream scoop. When I was a kid I used to work at Hojo’s. When I was promoted to the fountain, I thought my life would be amazing. It was like Cinderella, it was so exciting. And then I realized I was too short to scoop the ice cream. And there was a little faucet that would clean the scoops so it was a constant stream of leftover ice cream on the side of the ice cream in color. So when I pushed myself and throw myself into the ice cream cooler to get the ice cream, I ended up with a line of melted sour every flavor Howard Johnson’s served ice cream across my boots. So I became the girl with the ice cream boots.


John: That’s our show. Thanks so much for watching. We will see you next week! Good night!

[Cheers and applause]

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♪ work for it, work for it ♪
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