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Welfare Reform at 20: A Better Way Forward

August 19, 2016

This week, in advance of the the 20th anniversary of welfare reform, the Ways and Means Committee reviewed the law’s record of helping more low-income Americans escape poverty and climb the economic ladder.

Today, it’s clear that reforming the nation’s cash welfare program has successfully helped millions of single parents get back on their feet, earn a living, and provide for their children. While we fixed and continue to strengthen this important program, the rest of the welfare system is in desperate need of repair, and tens of millions more Americans in poverty are counting on us to also successfully reform other programs. 

That’s why Ways and Means Republicans are working to overhaul the welfare system and its maze of more than 80 anti-poverty programs. As Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) said when House Republicans proposed “A Better Way to Fight Poverty” in June

“We’re serious about combating poverty in America, and we’re serious about helping millions of Americans earn their success … There’s no hope for change … unless we do things differently.”

Learning from the success of TANF over the last 20 years, we established four guiding principles to “do things differently” and reform the nation’s welfare system:

  • Expect those who can work to work in exchange for benefits: Work—especially full-time work—is the surest way out of poverty. Many welfare programs provide benefits to alleviate immediate need, yet few provide low-income individuals the tools they need to succeed in the workforce and move up the economic ladder. Our welfare system should encourage work-capable welfare recipients to work or prepare for work in exchange for benefits and states should be held accountable for helping welfare recipients find jobs and stay employed.
  • Get incentives right: Under our current system, states and other service providers may lose money when someone leaves welfare for work, meaning they’re better off failing than succeeding. And given the way our welfare system works now, some welfare recipients become financially worse off from working. Our welfare system should ensure everyone is better off when someone leaves welfare for work.
  • Focus on results of welfare programs: Under our current system, the success of federal welfare programs is often defined by how many recipients are enrolled and how much money is spent. Yet very few programs, if any, are measured by whether or not they are delivering their intended results of helping people out of poverty. If our welfare system is going to be successful, we must ensure taxpayer dollars are being spent on programs that are proven to make a difference for individuals and families. Success should be defined not by how many welfare recipients there are but by how many people move off welfare and into the workforce for the long-term.
  • Improve integrity to preserve welfare benefits for those most in need: Our current welfare system is too complex, outdated, and inefficient. According to government watchdogs, the system spends millions of dollars in welfare benefits on individuals who are ineligible for the programs—reducing resources for those who truly need assistance and frustrating taxpayers who are expected to foot the bill. By using technology to prevent fraud and abuse, our nation’s welfare programs can be better focused on those who truly need help to move their families forward.

Republicans are committed to a better way forward to help more Americans escape poverty and build better lives for themselves and their families. Check back on Monday, August 22—the official 20th anniversary of the 1996 welfare reform law—to learn more about what we’re doing to help move more people from welfare to work and reduce poverty for the long term. 

CLICK HERE to read The Challenges with Reforming the Rest of the Welfare System

CLICK HERE to read How We Continue TANF’s Success

CLICK HERE to read Where We Are Today

CLICK HERE to read Where We Were in 1996