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Welfare Reform at 20: The Challenges with Reforming the Rest of the Welfare System

August 18, 2016

As the 20th anniversary of welfare reform approaches, the Ways and Means Committee is taking a look back so we can apply the same successful lessons to help more low-income Americans escape poverty and climb the economic ladder.

Yesterday, we highlighted the steps House Republicans have taken to build on the success of the 1996 welfare reform law and strengthen the nation’s cash welfare program, known as TANF.

But TANF is just one program in a maze of federal welfare programs intended to serve low-income families.

WM Welfare Chart - AR amendment 110215 jpeg

Today, dozens of government agencies spend hundreds of billions in taxpayer dollars each year on more than 80 anti-poverty programs. Many of these programs are duplicative, inefficient, or unnecessary, and hardly any of them focus on what we know helps Americans move from a life of welfare dependence to a life of earned success and independence: a job.

As Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) said in May at the first full committee hearing on welfare reform in a decade:

“The current system is failing to deliver results for those that need it most, and it is our responsibility to be part of the solution … 

“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 this system, without a genuine regard for effectiveness in actually delivering real results. This approach lacks compassion and respect for American families trapped in poverty.” 

At the hearing, we heard from Karen VanZant, who has dedicated her life to helping welfare recipients escape poverty. As a former welfare recipient who once relied on government assistance, VanZant said:

“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.”

When one-third of the U.S. population receives some sort of welfare benefit from the federal government, and more than 46 million Americans are living in poverty, we cannot accept this status quo. By replicating the success of TANF and ensuring the nation’s welfare system focuses on work, low-income individuals and families can truly escape poverty for the long-term. Check back tomorrow to learn how Ways and Means Republicans are working to improve the system and help more Americans realize their potential.

CLICK HERE to learn more.