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Linder Opening Statement: Hearing on the Role of Education and Training in the TANF Program

April 22, 2010

Our Democrat colleagues began this Congress promising to spend $1 trillion and create 3.7 million jobs.  Vice President Biden said, without irony, “we gotta go spend money to keep from going bankrupt.”  Despite those assurances, we have lost 3 million jobs and amassed mountains of debt. 

Just last week, to cover up the failure of their stimulus, the Administration released a report saying – literally – if you drop their prior predictions by 7 million jobs, they have saved 3 million jobs.  I ask unanimous consent to insert in the record an analysis of this outrageous ploy. 
Next our Democrat colleagues promised their health reforms would provide taxpayer-paid coverage to 30 million more people, yet somehow save taxpayers money and create 4 million jobs.  They frontloaded the taxes but backloaded the benefits, so it will take longer to see that those promises won’t be kept, either.  And instead of restraining exploding health care spending, which every expert says threatens our fiscal and economic health, they made it worse.   
To build on that record, our colleagues train their sights now on welfare reform. 
The 1996 welfare reforms are widely regarded as the most successful social policy change of the last generation.  Even the New York Times said “Welfare reform has been an obvious success.”*   This despite 1996 predictions from welfare reform opponents, some of whom said “In about 1998, you’re going to start to see the impacts on cities, with more homeless families. They can’t pay the rent. You will wind up with people living under bridges and in cardboard boxes.” **

Yet welfare reform succeeded by promoting record work and earnings by young parents, which led to record declines in dependence and poverty. 

Significantly for today’s hearing, the few proponents of the former failed welfare system argued, in its defense, that it provided maximum flexibility for parents to be in school and collect degrees so they could eventually get high-paying jobs.  And so it did.  In 1994 when the welfare rolls reached their all-time peak, almost every State allowed welfare recipients to be in college year after year.  There was no real Federal work requirement.  Of the small share of recipients who did anything at all, almost four times as many were in education compared with anything associated with work.  Before reform, according to Harvard scholars, the average length of a family’s stay on welfare was an incredible 8 years.  Earnings were far lower, poverty was greater. 

This doesn’t mean education isn’t important.  It is.  Even with its new “work first” ethic, today’s welfare reform program already allows plenty of education to count as “work.”  In fact, according to HHS data, States collectively have used only half of their current capacity to count education as work.  Further, current rules require only 50 percent of welfare recipients to engage in work activities each year.  So no matter what, States could expect the other 50 percent to do anything – including any amount of education and training – while still satisfying the program’s requirements.
As we will hear from the respected welfare expert Dr. Larry Mead, extensive research, along with recent data, support maintaining this successful “work first” approach.  The most comprehensive studies found clear evidence that promoting work, or work complemented by the type of short-term, targeted training countable today, is the most effective way to increase employment and earnings and reduce welfare dependence.
But as with their other policies, Democrats’ ideas to “reform” welfare reform will have predictable outcomes – just not the ones they forecast.  Instead of leading to improvements, their “reforms” will mean more welfare dependence, bigger welfare caseloads, and more taxpayer spending. 

Knowing many of our colleagues on the other side of the aisle opposed the 1996 welfare reforms, and judging from the track record of their other predictions, it wouldn’t take much of a cynic to think that may be the real point.

* New York Times, “Reforming Welfare Reform,” April 8, 2002.

** Rep. Jim McDermott (D-WA), Press Conference, July 31, 1996.