In 1996, Congress passed the welfare reform law to reform the nation’s major cash welfare program, which provided financial support to low-income single parents with children but did little to help them escape poverty. The reforms eliminated the existing program and instead established the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program to promote work and earned success, not welfare dependence.
Today, on the 20th anniversary of the welfare reform law, the Ways and Means Committee released a new report highlighting the reforms’ success in helping TANF recipients move off of welfare and into the workforce for the long term.
Using a new and refined measure of poverty — one that focuses on earnings and uses a more accurate measure of inflation — the report found the 1996 reforms resulted in more low-income families earning their way out of poverty, moving off welfare, and climbing up the economic ladder. Specifically, over the last two decades, there have been:
- Record increases in work and earnings for single parents with children along with record declines in welfare dependence and poverty
- Historically low rates of child poverty for those in female-headed households
- Rising rates of poverty for prime working-age adults without children (those ages 25-54) — who were unaffected by the 1996 welfare reform law
TANF is just one of more than 80 anti-poverty programs that make up the federal welfare system, and few of these programs focus on moving off welfare and into the workforce for the long term. Based on these findings, the report recommends applying the successful lessons from TANF to ensure all anti-poverty efforts are effectively serving Americans.
As Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) wrote in The Hill:
“House Republicans have a vision for the next round of welfare reforms that will help more people find jobs, escape poverty, and move up the economic ladder. As laid out in our ‘Better Way to Fight Poverty,’ we are committed to attacking poverty at its roots through personalized solutions that break down barriers to a better life.
“As the 1996 welfare reform demonstrated, by expecting welfare recipients to work or prepare for work in exchange for receiving benefits, we can transform millions of lives and provide low-income Americans with real paths out of poverty.
“We have a responsibility to apply these successful lessons to help all those who remain trapped in poverty today.”
As laid out in “A Better Way to Fight Poverty,” Ways and Means Republicans are working on the next round of reforms so that our nation’s welfare system can help more Americans escape poverty and build better lives for themselves.
CLICK HERE to read the full report
CLICK HERE to read Chairman Brady’s op-ed in The Hill
CLICK HERE to read the “Welfare Reform at 20” Series