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

March 29, 2023

As prepared for delivery.


“Chairman LaHood, Ranking Member Davis – I’m pleased to join you for the first hearing of the Work and Welfare Subcommittee in the 118th Congress. This is a first step in ensuring that welfare programs work for America’s families by helping lift them out of poverty instead of keeping them trapped.


“I know the reality faced by working-class families in America because I’ve lived it. My grandparents never had running water. I grew up with my family living in a single-wide trailer in southern Missouri, until we upgraded to a double-wide. My father was a preacher and an auto-mechanic, and my mother went to work in a factory so my siblings and I could have health insurance.


“Families, like the one I grew up in and millions of others across America, do the best they can to stretch every dollar to make ends meet. Millions of families go through rough patches through no fault of their own and need help. And when done correctly, welfare can be the bridge to a better life for families who are struggling.


“No one’s dream is to spend their lives on government assistance. Parents want to have the opportunity to provide for their families – put food on the table, clothes on their kids’ backs, and a roof over their heads. 


“If we don’t get welfare right, then we run the risk of trapping people in a generational cycle of poverty that makes a government check more valuable than a job and robs them of the dignity of work.


“We already see what happens when people are discouraged from working. In our country, labor force participation still hasn’t caught up to where it was before COVID. There are nearly two jobs currently available for every worker.


“The simple fact is that work provides people a lifeline and a purpose – it connects them to their communities and rewards achievement.


“The bipartisan welfare reform of 1996 vindicated that approach as child poverty fell and caseloads were reduced. Welfare was a stepping stone for families, not a dead-end.


“Today, the welfare system needs modernization. According to the Foundation for Government Accountability, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, only about 3 million of the roughly 48.5 million able-bodied adults who received Medicaid, TANF, food stamps, public housing, or child care benefits were subject to any work requirement.


“In 2021, the vast majority of states had a 0 percent work participation requirement for TANF, meaning many states are not being held accountable for maximizing the number of individuals on their caseloads who are engaged in work.


“Government policies have too often encouraged Americans not to work, resulting in increased dependency and millions of unfilled jobs. We should be exploring every possibility to get our fellow Americans back into the labor force, including strengthening work requirements across all government programs.  


“I hope this can be an area where Congress can come together and ensure that our welfare policies work for a new generation.”