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Ways and Means Takes Steps to Help Low-Income Americans Climb the Economic Ladder

May 24, 2016

The Ways and Means Committee today held a hearing on reforming our nation’s welfare system to reduce poverty and expand opportunities for all Americans. The conversation marked the first full committee hearing on welfare reform in a decade and comes just weeks before the Poverty, Opportunity, and Upward Mobility Task Force will unveil its report on reforms to encourage opportunity and improve lives across the country.

As Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) said:

“Today’s hearing is about people, and right now there are more than 46 million in our nation who are living in poverty.

“Decades of experience tells us the most effective anti-poverty program is a job. Yet of those who are working-age and in poverty, nearly two in three are not working, many of them not by choice, but in large part because of the welfare system…

“For decades, money has been thrown blindly at [the welfare] system, without a genuine regard for effectiveness in actually delivering real results. This approach lacks compassion and respect for American families trapped in poverty.”

Rep. Pat Tiberi (R-OH) agreed:

“Today’s hearing is about how we’re getting families and individuals off of the social safety net and into the workforce. This shouldn’t be a partisan issue. And I think we can agree over the last fifty years [the welfare system] hasn’t worked so well.”

Over the last several decades, the welfare system has grown into a $1 trillion maze of more than 80 programs — many of which are duplicative or ineffective. In fact, according to estimates from Obama White House officials, “less than $1 out of every $100 of government spending is backed by even the most basic evidence that the money is being spent wisely.”

Karen VanZant shared her personal experience helping low-income Americans move from welfare to work and up the economic ladder. As the executive director for Life Services at CareSource – one of the nation’s biggest Medicaid managed care organizations – VanZant has dedicated her life to working with individuals and families to find jobs, grow their careers, and earn their own success.


As Ms. VanZant — a former welfare recipient who once relied on government assistance – testified today:

“The system is well-intentioned, but too often misaligned with government programs that are failing to move Americans out of a life of subsidy and dependence and into a life of economic independence, safety and social well-being.”

Tarren Bragdon, CEO of the Foundation for Government Accountability added:

“The tragedy of the failed welfare state is not how much money is being spent. The real tragedy is how many families are being trapped in poverty for too long – sometimes generations.”

Rep. Tom Rice (R-SC) – who along with his current Chief of Staff helped run a homeless shelter in Myrtle Beach, SC, for 20 years — agreed with witnesses about the importance of work in ending the cycle of poverty for families and communities:

“The only permanent solution to this is a job … Everybody wants to make sure that those who need a hand up get it. But the truth is if you rely on these government programs and you don’t transition to work, you will always be in poverty. And likely your kids will always be in poverty. And your grandkids. Transitioning to work is the only way out of that trap.”

As President of the Business Roundtable and former Governor of Michigan, John Engler said on behalf of job-creators and business leaders:

“We are … eager to continue working with Congress to empower the states and local communities, helping develop the strategies that can bring more Americans into the workforce to support themselves and their families.”

Rep. Dave Reichert (R-WA), who concluded the discussion today, reiterated:

“We can all agree that there is need for some change … We are all trying to do that right thing. We want to help people get back to work. We all care.”

As Ways and Means Republicans continue efforts to reduce poverty and expand opportunities, the following principles will guide our work:

  • Expect work-capable adults to work or prepare for work in exchange for receiving benefits.
  • Get incentives right so welfare recipients, taxpayers, employers, states, and nonprofits are all better off when someone moves from welfare to work.
  • Focus on results of welfare programs and make programs outcome-driven.
  • And finally, improve integrity to preserve welfare benefits for those most in need.

For more information about today’s hearing, click here