Our plan to reduce poverty and expand opportunity
Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX)
June 7, 2016
Imagine if every resident in 24 states in America lived in poverty. Had for years. With no change in sight. Would that be enough to force a hard look at how Washington tackles poverty in one of the most prosperous nations on earth? History would suggest otherwise.
The grim reality is there are 46 million Americans living in poverty — equal to the combined population of 24 states — and that number isn’t budging. Nor will it unless policymakers acknowledge we need a fresh approach that promotes innovation, responsibility and holds ourselves accountable to real results.
Earlier this year, Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan established the Poverty, Opportunity, and Upward Mobility Task Force to identify 21st Century solutions to lift Americans out of poverty and help them climb the economic ladder.
Today we are unveiling our recommendations to the American people.
From the New Deal of the 1930s to the Great Society’s War on Poverty in the 1960s, there have been repeated and blindly expansive efforts by Washington bureaucrats to smother these stubborn issues by spending more and more taxpayer dollars.
These Washington-driven programs have failed to achieve their intended mission of truly addressing and preventing poverty. Now, our nation’s welfare system is a $1 trillion annual maze of more than 80 different federal programs — many of which are duplicative, uncoordinated and ineffective.
As President Ronald Reagan observed: “The federal government declared war on poverty, and poverty won.”
This is unacceptable in America.
Our report departs from the flawed approach of the last several decades and provides a different perspective on how to help our fellow Americans rise up out of poverty. Decades of experience show that the most effective anti-poverty program is not one of the 80 disjointed programs run by the federal government — but instead, it’s a job.
It’s helping low–income Americans earn success through the dignity of work.
At the Ways and Means Committee, we are working to build a system that provides more Americans with personalized solutions, real paths out of poverty and better opportunities to realize their potential.
This challenge starts with four principles that drive our welfare reform efforts.
First, our welfare system should expect work-capable individuals to work or prepare for work in exchange for benefits. Work is the only path to long-term success and higher, better paying jobs.
Second, we have to get incentives right so everyone wins when someone moves from welfare to work. This includes the families in need, states and organizations administering these programs, businesses that do the hiring, and the taxpayers who fund it. Given the poverty traps our welfare system catches people within, at times it doesn’t make financial sense for someone on welfare to work more because they can end up worse off in the end. Today states may have perverse incentives to keep people on the rolls.
As one former welfare recipient testified at a recent Ways and Means Committee hearing: “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.”
Third, results matter. We have to measure the success of our welfare programs based on their results. If we are going to be successful in reducing poverty, we have to ensure our taxpayer dollars are being spent on programs that are making a difference in the lives of the very people we aim to serve.
And finally, we must preserve our welfare system for those most in need, which means minimizing fraud and abuse.
Our plan is to turn our Poverty, Opportunity, and Upward Mobility blueprint into action by modeling our national reforms on solutions that have already been developed in our communities around the county. The plan includes commonsense, proven policies such as:
• Providing states more flexibility to help the unemployed get back to work sooner;
• Establishing pay-for-results funding models that reward innovation while protecting taxpayer dollars;
• Setting clear expectations, across programs, for work and training in exchange for benefits; and
• Making sure families are always better off when someone goes to work.
There is an urgent need to act.
House Republicans will not accept the inevitability of an outdated, top-down Washington effort that is failing 46 million Americans in poverty. We insist on real solutions that meet immediate needs and empower people to escape poverty and move up the economic ladder.
We will continue to lead on this issue and on legislation that will improve lives for people across the country. We believe that every person has God-given potential and we will do everything possible to help more Americans achieve their own success.