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Getting Things Done: Restoring the American Idea

July 1, 2015

As we continue to look at what the Ways and Means Committee has accomplished so far this Congress, already diving into the many successes of our trade, health, and oversight subcommittees, we now turn our attention to human resources. Under the leadership of Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) and Human Resources Subcommittee Chairman Charles Boustany (R-LA), Ways and Means is laying the groundwork for an ambitious rewrite of our poverty programs, so that we can help people move from welfare to work. Here’s a rundown of what the committee has been up to, and what’s on the horizon.

Setting the Stage for Welfare Reform 2.0

America has always been considered the land of opportunity. Unfortunately, our welfare system has become one that can actually discourage those who want to make a better life for themselves and their families. Many of our programs actually encourage individuals to stay on welfare instead of join the workforce, holding them hostage in the never-ending cycle of poverty and stopping them from reaching their full potential. That’s why Ways and Means has been taking a deep dive into the real issues that face our welfare system, setting the stage for “welfare reform 2.0,” so that, ultimately, we can help make the American idea a reality for anyone who wants it.

One way we’ve been doing this is by holding a series of hearings to analyze these challenges. So far, these hearings have focused on issues like the challenges facing low-income families and how few programs provide evidence that prove they help families get ahead.

One hearing of note took place just last week, when the subcommittee held a historic joint hearing with the Agriculture Nutrition Subcommittee to review how the welfare programs they oversee work together, and what can be done to improve them. Witnesses, including program experts and a current beneficiary, testified that welfare recipients often are financially better off if they stay on these programs instead of going to work.

Americans deserves better, and we’re determined to deliver on a long-overdue redesign of many of our welfare programs so that we can give people stuck in poverty a better shot at getting out. As Chairman Ryan has said, “This isn’t about saving money; it’s about saving lives.”

Helping People Move from Welfare to Work

Sound welfare reform starts with helping people get back into the job market. Welfare reform in the 1990s helped millions of low-income people move up the economic ladder and out of poverty by going to work. The key then was promoting work-based welfare reform—something today’s programs are just not doing enough to encourage.

That’s why Chairman Boustany chaired a subcommittee hearing focused on improving TANF, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, to discuss how we can make it a program that actually helps more families find work and escape poverty—for good.

By evaluating what reforms are needed to help low-income parents work and escape government-dependence, this hearing marked the start of the first real TANF reauthorization process in nearly a decade. The subcommittee is working on the first TANF reform bill since early 2006, so stay tuned.

Evidence-Based Policy Making

Another step in making government work better for people is analyzing whether or not programs are actually effective. It’s a novel idea, we know. In April, Chairman Ryan, along with Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), introduced the Evidence-Based Policymaking Commission Act of 2015, a bill that would establish a 15-member commission to study how best to expand the use of data to evaluate the effectiveness of federal programs. The commission would give agencies a better grasp of how effective programs are, and would give lawmakers a better grasp of how to improve them. As Chairman Ryan so simply said upon introducing the bill, “If we want to make government more effective, we need to know what works.”

The legislation has been approved by committees in both the House and Senate, and we are hopeful it will see floor action in both chambers in the coming weeks.

Stopping Waste, Fraud, and Abuse

Finally, Ways and Means has been hard at work to stop the waste, fraud, and abuse that plagues many of our benefits programs, like unemployment insurance and supplemental security income. Recent years have seen close to $100 billion in program misspending involving both unemployment as well as low-income disability benefits. As CNN put it, a “tsunami of fraud” is sweeping the nation in the form of improper payments, and Ways and Means is working to put a stop to it.

Earlier this year, members of the Ways and Means Committee introduced a series of bills to strengthen the integrity of the safety net. Soon after, the Human Resources Subcommittee held a hearing on protecting the safety net from waste, fraud and abuse, where members of the committee, as well as other experts, testified about how these bills would prevent improper payments to prisoners, fugitives, and people wrongly collecting benefits under multiple programs, among other examples of misspending of taxpayer funds.

Onward and Upward

Though the road to welfare reform is long, we’re encouraged by the groundwork our members have laid to make it one worth taking. It’s time our policies reflect the notion that the condition of your birth doesn’t determine the outcome of your life. As Chairman Ryan recently called for in a TEDx talk, it’s time for us to try a new approach in tackling poverty in America—and Ways and Means is leading the charge.

 

SUBCOMMITTEE: Full Committee    SUBCOMMITTEE: Worker and Family Support