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March 31, 2011
Power to the States: The Welfare Edition
I encourage you to read Susan Carleson's article on welfare reform. The author's interest in the topic is no surprise. After all, her husband Robert worked closely with Ronald Reagan to reform welfare in both California and Washington, DC. Robert Carleson fought to make welfare programs more effective for those who truly need them, and his work helped bring about the successful bipartisan reforms of 1996. At the Republican Study Committee (RSC), we share Susan's desire to build on that success.
Americans now spend more on welfare than we do on national defense, yet poverty rates are actually higher today than in the 1970s. Clearly the current system is failing. Susan proposes to give control to the states through a procedure known as block granting. It's an idea with a lot of merit, and one that is fully compatible with H.R. 1167, the RSC's Welfare Reform Act of 2011. (Watch this video for more background.)
The most effective welfare benefit is the one that leads to a job. That's why H.R. 1167 requires able-bodied adults on food stamps to either work or prepare for work. The bill also creates a "federal welfare budget" comprised of the 77 different federal programs aimed at providing assistance to low-income Americans. Once the economy improves with unemployment at 6.5% or lower, this welfare budget would return to its pre-recession level and be allowed to grow with inflation.
While the Welfare Reform Act does not mandate that programs be block granted to the states, that is an option Congress needs to consider. In fact, block granting some programs - while consolidating or terminating others - would be an excellent way to meet the proposed spending cap in our bill.
Decades of experience prove we can't just throw money at the problem of poverty. We need a smarter approach that helps people become independent of government assistance and acknowledges the interconnected nature of all our anti-poverty programs. As President Reagan said, "We should measure welfare's success by how many people leave welfare, not by how many are added."
Congressman Jim Jordan (R-OH) is Chairman of the Republican Study Committee, the caucus of conservatives in the U.S. House of Representatives.