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Chairman Boustany: Better Coordinating Welfare Programs to Serve Families in Need

November 03, 2015

WASHINGTON, DC — Today, House Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee Chairman Charles Boustany (R-LA) delivered the following opening statement during a hearing on better coordinating welfare programs to serve families in need.

“Good morning. This hearing is the latest in our series on moving America’s families forward.

“In prior hearings we reviewed how families are faring, what actually works to help them, some ways to address fraud and abuse, how current programs discourage work and higher earnings, and more. We have drafted possible reforms to the TANF program, and are reviewing how best to move those forward. And all along the way we have listened to real people trying to navigate these programs to find the work and earnings they need to escape poverty for good.

“Today’s hearing takes a step back and reviews the dizzying array of programs designed to help low-income families, and how that patchwork of programs complicates the challenges for those most in need.  

“This federal welfare system is large, fragmented, and growing in cost. The nonpartisan Congressional Research Service estimates that we currently operate over 80 programs that provide food, housing, healthcare, job training, education, energy assistance, and cash to low-income Americans.

“Here is a graphic depiction of that array of benefit programs designed to help low-income individuals and families.

WM Welfare Chart - AR amendment 110215 jpeg

“What it shows is, in short, a mess. This system may have started out with good intentions, but it has become a confusing maze of programs that are overlapping, duplicative, poorly coordinated, and difficult to administer. I defy anyone to say this is the best way to address the human tragedy so many of our fellow citizens experience.

“We spend roughly $750 billion at the federal level on these programs, and hundreds of billions more at the state level. All told, taxpayers provide $1 trillion per year in help for low-income Americans, yet today there are 9.4 million more Americans living below the poverty line than there were in 2007, before the last recession. In sum, we are spending more and getting worse results when it comes to promoting the work and earnings that keep families out of poverty.

“A number of these programs, like TANF, SSI, and child welfare, are under the jurisdiction of this subcommittee. Others are under the jurisdiction of the full committee, such as various low-income tax credits. And many others involve other committees, complicating our efforts at better coordination. But we have to start somewhere. This hearing will give us a chance to review this array of programs, understand the challenges created by their sheer number, and review some state efforts to rationalize the services they provide. That understanding will lay the groundwork for future efforts to modernize and streamline or, at the very least, better coordinate these programs to help more people achieve opportunity and upward mobility.

“We welcome our guests today, and look forward to their testimony.”