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Boustany Opening Statement: Improving TANF to Help More Families Find Work and Escape Poverty

April 30, 2015

WASHINGTON — Today, Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee Chairman Charles Boustany (R-LA) delivered the following opening statement during a hearing on ideas to improve welfare programs to help more families find work and escape poverty.

“Thank you for coming to today’s hearing on how we can improve welfare to help more families find work and escape poverty.

“Before we start, I would like to welcome Congressman Bob Dold to the Subcommittee on Human Resources. He is the newest member on the Committee on Ways and Means, and he represents Illinois’ 10th district. I look forward to working with him in the 114th Congress—we will be working on important issues and it is good to have another talented individual on this subcommittee.

“I would also like to take this time to say thanks to Congressman Tom Reed of New York. He is leaving this subcommittee and his talents will be missed—he made many substantive contributions during his time here. With that, let’s move on to the business at hand.

“We know that welfare reforms in the 1990s helped millions of low-income parents go to work and move up the economic ladder. The key was increasing work. After work-based welfare reform, employment by single mothers—who head households most likely to go on welfare—rose sharply. That increased work and earnings caused poverty and dependence on welfare checks to fall substantially for key groups. Poverty among African American households with children reached record lows. And poverty among female-headed households with children remains lower today than before 1996 despite two recessions.

“While that story is positive, it’s not enough. Recent years have seen troubling trends, especially on whether State welfare programs are doing enough to engage adults in work. For instance, according to HHS, States reported that in 2011 a full 55 percent of adults on welfare did zero hours of work or other activity while collecting benefit checks. Despite welfare’s apparent work requirements, States did so through a grab bag of accounting gimmicks, loopholes, and exceptions. Then in mid-2012 the Obama Administration released their unprecedented ‘guidance’ suggesting States could waive the work requirements altogether. While no States sought waivers, that move sent a clear signal that work requirements don’t matter to the Obama Administration. Add in the fact that the last comprehensive reauthorization of welfare was in 2006, and it’s clearly past time for a full review and reauthorization of this critical program.

“That’s what we are here today to do—review how we can improve welfare to help more parents find work so more families escape poverty. That starts with rejecting the Obama Administration’s ‘guidance’ waiving the work requirements, but it certainly doesn’t end there. Other, more bipartisan policies can strengthen the work requirements and improve the program. For example, the President’s Budget would prohibit the use of ‘nongovernmental third party expenditures to meet state Maintenance of Effort requirements’ and includes ‘a provision to ensure that states use [welfare] funds for benefits and services for needy families.’ We should be able to find agreement on that, which would strengthen welfare and focus its resources on families who most need help. We should also reduce marriage penalties, simplify program administration, and pave the way for broader reforms improving opportunity and upward mobility.

“This is about more than just abstract policies. We are pleased to be joined by Sherrie Smoot, who spent years on welfare without getting the help she really needed—how to find, get, and keep a job. Her example shows what can happen when we help people solve problems, instead of just dispensing checks year after year. That’s the real goal of our hearing today—for more people to succeed like Sherrie.”