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Work and Welfare Subcommittee Chairman LaHood Opening Statement: Welfare is Broken – Restoring Work Requirements to Lift Americans Out of Poverty

March 29, 2023

As prepared for delivery.


“Good afternoon and welcome. I want to thank everyone for joining us for today’s important hearing on how we can restore work requirements to lift more Americans out of poverty.


“My name is Darin LaHood and I represent Illinois’ 16th District, covering much of the central and northwestern parts of the state.


“As Chairman of the Work and Welfare Subcommittee, I am proud of this committee’s longstanding leadership and multi-year efforts to pass constructive and responsible welfare reform.


“This subcommittee has consistently enacted policies that reduce poverty by helping families achieve self-sufficiency through the dignity and value of work.


“The 1996 welfare reform converted our nation’s welfare system from an open-ended entitlement – which caused rising welfare caseloads, long durations in poverty, and rising single parenthood – into the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant, which provides fixed funding to states and for the first time required work in exchange for benefits.


“The primary goal of the TANF program is to assist families in need with a hand-up, providing a safety net of government assistance to find work and pull themselves out of poverty.


“Since passage of the 1996 reforms, welfare caseloads have dropped over 80 percent as families moved into the workforce and left the cycle of dependency.


“The benefits of the 1996 bipartisan welfare reform have persisted decades after its passage, with children today half as likely to grow up below the poverty threshold.


“Not only that, but among single-parent families, deep poverty fell from around 5 percent before reform to less than 1 percent today.


“Despite these gains, over the years work requirements in TANF have fallen flat because current law includes many loopholes that have been exploited by states.


‘Likewise, federal rules on what counts and does not count towards the federal work participation rate can create obstacles for moving some individuals into the workforce. Even though we know a job is the best way out of poverty.



“This has led to thousands of TANF recipients having zero hours of “engaged in work” reported to the Department of Health and Human Services. In fact, 57 percent of work eligible individuals on TANF recorded zero hours of work in 2021.


“Ways and Means Republicans are dedicated to ensuring that there is accountability for federal taxpayer dollars across programs and that states are not able to game the system and avoid engaging their current TANF caseloads in opportunities for work.


“We want to find solutions to help states, localities, and caseworkers effectively work with low-income families to remove barriers and support self-sufficiency by equipping them with the skills they need to be successful in the labor market.


“The timing for this hearing and strengthening TANF work requirements could not be better.


“Today there are nearly 11 million open jobs across the country, or 1.7 for every worker. Our country’s employers and small businesses are clamoring for workers to fill these roles. Despite a growing economy, the workforce participation rate is currently 62.5 percent, still below the pre-pandemic level.

“Programs that lack work requirements, such as the temporary work-free cash payments Democrats provided through the expanded Child Tax Credit last year, do nothing to address underlying problems that may be holding a family back from success. We cannot have a safety net system that incentivizes government dependency by paying people more not to work.


“I’m proud that we have a support system in place, but it should be a trampoline, not a generational poverty trap. Ways and Means Republicans are dedicated to helping individuals on the sidelines move into the workforce and attain their full potential.


“We must reform TANF to uplift recipients to a path of self-sufficiency and bolster our workforce. We cannot afford to relegate an entire generation of workers to the sidelines.


“I sincerely hope we can work together on improving the TANF program to restore the focus on the work preparation activities, training, support services, and case management that it takes to meaningfully lift Americans out of poverty in a sustained way. This can and should be a bipartisan effort.


“I’m honored to have our guests here today to share their perspectives and expertise on TANF and moving individuals into our workforce and out of poverty.”