Republican Charlie Baker, in new gov. campaign ad, takes credit for welfare improvements during time on Beacon Hill; numbers tell less cheerful story
Brian Steele // September 26, 2014
BOSTON – Republican candidate for governor Charlie Baker has released a new television ad claiming he was personally responsible for lowering the number of families on welfare, and creating new jobs during his time on Beacon Hill.
The thirty-second spot called "Delivers" shows self-identified Democrats saying they will vote for Baker on Nov. 4, instead of their own party's candidate, Attorney General Martha Coakley. It then says, "Charlie Baker got people off welfare and made Massachusetts first in jobs" when he was secretary of Health and Human Services in the William Weld administration from 1992 to 1994, then secretary of Administration and Finance until 1998.
MassLive.com asked Baker's campaign for additional details on the ad's claims. A spokesman responded with quotes from a story published in the Boston Globe in 2010, describing Baker's success as limiting welfare benefits to two years and getting recipients jobs in the private sector, among other components of a statewide overhaul.
The Massachusetts Budget and Policy Center reports that the poverty rate in Massachusetts was fairly consistent during Baker's time in state government. The welfare overhaul moved people off direct cash assistance and into taxpayer-funded work support programs, resulting in a massive plunge in welfare caseloads and savings of $588 million when adjusted for inflation in 2007 dollars.
But MassBudget president Noah Berger says there's more to the story, citing the organization's most recent report on the issue, released in 2008.
"Those savings were never reinvested in things that could help people work their way out of poverty and into the middle class," said Berger, adding that child care, job training and transportation access should be priorities when talking about poverty reduction. "The goal was to use resources to help people succeed. We don't know what's happened to those people."
Berger said many of the welfare recipients simply "reached their time limit without any (state) strategy for helping them support their family." He said it's hard to say for sure, but there doesn't appear to be a relationship between lower welfare enrollment and lower poverty rates.
Poverty dipped in the U.S. as a whole between 1993 and 2000, but in Massachusetts, the poverty level stayed between 9 and 11 percent from 1990 through 2006, according to MassBudget. The drops were more dramatic in the U.S. as a whole than they were in Massachusetts.
"Baker delivers, creating jobs, balancing budgets, fixing government," according to the ad's voiceover.
When Weld appointed him secretary of Administration and Finance in 1994, Baker oversaw a four-year continuous decline in the unemployment rate, which lasted until he left state government in 1998.
In September 1991, the state unemployment rate was 9.1 percent and it was stuck there until February 1992. It bottomed out at 3.3 percent in August 1998. In the same period, the national unemployment rate fell from 6.9 percent to 4.5 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
But the BLS shows Baker's claim that he made Massachusetts number one in jobs is not accurate if you judge it by the unemployment rate. From the BLS in 1998:
Minnesota recorded the lowest 1998 annual average unemployment rate, 2.5 percent, followed by Nebraska, 2.7 percent. Nebraska has had the lowest or second-lowest rate for the past 9 years. The other states with rates below 3.0 percent were Iowa (2.8 percent) and New Hampshire, South Dakota, and Virginia (each 2.9 percent). Seven of the 12 states with rates below 3.5 percent were in the Midwest, and 4 were in New England.
Massachusetts was also not number one in 1997, 1996, 1995, 1994, 1993 or 1992.
Baker's spokesman said Baker oversaw a period of job growth that was unparalleled in the U.S., and the "number one in jobs" claim is based on a 5.8 percent reduction in the unemployment rate during his tenure.
The "Delivers" ad takes a few seconds to reiterate that his stance on abortion access is pro-choice. It will air in the Boston and Springfield markets, and on cable statewide.
The former CEO of Harvard Pilgrim Healthcare ran unsuccessfully against Gov. Deval Patrick in 2010. The latest poll from the Boston Globe shows Baker with a slight lead over Coakley.
The Western Mass. Media Consortium, which includes The Republican/MassLive.com, is hosting a gubernatorial debate at CityStage in downtown Springfield on Monday, Sept. 29 at 7 p.m.
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