U.S. House Considers Welfare Reform Bill
The U.S. House of Representatives is considering a bill that would help ensure Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) money goes only to individuals and families in need of taxpayer assistance and create publicly available data-tracking systems.
The U.S. House of Representatives is considering a bill that would help ensure Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) money goes only to individuals and families in need of taxpayer assistance, create publicly available data-tracking systems for benchmarking success, and rename the program.
House Resolution 5861 (H.R. 5861), the Jobs and Opportunity with Benefits and Services Act, was approved by the House Committee on Ways and Means on May 24. The full House has yet to schedule a vote on the bill.
Help Wanted: 6.5 Million People
H.R. 5861’s sponsor, U.S. Rep. Adrian Smith (R-NE), says the time is right to fix what’s broken in the federal poverty relief system.
“The 1996 welfare reforms were meant to help folks become more self-sufficient, but not a lot has happened since then in terms of long-term results,” Smith said. “There are so many folks on the sidelines, and so many businesses need workers. This is really an opportune time federally to make a change and fix this problem, with 6.5 million unfilled jobs in America right now.
“We want every American and American family to benefit from this growing economy,” Smith said. “Poverty is a real issue our nation faces, and this is a step toward fighting it.”
Ben Gitis, director of labor market policy with the American Action Forum, says any government anti-poverty program should help people get out of poverty.
“A family bringing in self-provided income leads to self-sufficiency, although the self-sufficiency among families in poverty really hasn’t changed in the last 30 to 40 years,” Gitis said. “Material deprivation has changed, but that’s only based on the amount of government assistance provided. Therefore, something needs to change to fix the program and the system to help these people become less dependent on the government alone.”
‘This Bill Is So Important’
Gitis says the prevalence of poverty in the U.S. has remained almost unchanged despite the huge amount of taxpayer money spent on the problem.
“There are several economic factors to consider when looking at why this bill is so important,” Gitis said. “The most notable factor is that poverty in America in the last 30 to 40 years has not changed. In 1980, it was 13 percent, and in 2012 it was 12 percent, despite the fact that the government spends billions annually.”
Smith says the government should be able to quantify how people are being helped with the taxpayers’ money.
“I don’t want to give up on these individuals,” Smith said. "We maintain a 3 percent poverty rate when people hold jobs in this country. This new program will create a dashboard that will be available to the public to make sure we stay on track to getting people in jobs and staying there.”
Breaking the Poverty Trap
Gitis says the current system encourages people to remain dependent.
“Declining labor force participation of able-bodied young people is believed to be because of work disincentives,” Gitis said. “The failures of TANF can be acutely attributed to a lack of an effective case management system, checking jobs and the progress being made.
“You want your tax dollars to work for you and for the nation, and these new policies will increase accountability,” Gitis said.
Smith says helping individuals break the cycle of poverty and improve themselves is a key goal of his bill.
“Ninety-two percent of TANF recipients are single moms,” Smith said. “I’d like to see taxpayer dollars go toward efforts to effectively help raise these moms and families out of poverty.
“Education is one of the premier ways to lift these workers, these families, and these single moms out of poverty for good,” Smith said. “Whether these workers go back to complete a GED [high school equivalency certificate], get an associate’s degree, or go to some trade school, these opportunities will help them immediately but also help the family for generations to come.”