Rising and sustained welfare rolls trigger case for reforms

NEW ORLEANS, La. – In response to three years of ballooning welfare rolls, a caucus of over 170 Republican House members has released H.R. 1167 Welfare Reform Act of 2011. The bill would expand the reforms of the mid-1990s, require food stamp recipients to either work or prepare for a job, and impose a spending cap once unemployment recedes.

The cry for reform comes on the heels of U.S. Census Bureau data that shows one in seven Americans lives at or below the poverty line. This number has remained stagnant since the 1970s, despite a 423 percent increase in federal welfare spending.

Rep. Jim Jordan (OH-R), Chairman of the House Republican Study Committee and lead sponsor of the bill, believes the most effective welfare benefit is one that leads to employment.

“Decades of experience prove we can’t just throw money at the problem of poverty”, Jordan says.

Katherine Bradley, visiting fellow at the Heritage Foundation and co-author of “Confronting the Unsustainable Growth of Welfare Entitlements”, agrees with Jordan and wants people to realize the severity of the problem.

“The average length of stay on food stamps is eight years.” She continues, “the number of people on food stamps is now enormous – [more than] 40 million people.”

Following the mid-1990s welfare reform, the number of participants in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program fell by 70 percent. The new reform would, in a similar manner, overhaul 71 other programs and require the president’s budget to include current and future welfare spending for all programs. (The federal government temporarily extended TANF in 2010, on account of the recession, and the number of TANF recipients increased by 15 percent.)

Other provisions of the act would cap federal spending on welfare to 2007 levels after unemployment falls below 6.5 percent, and bar welfare funds from being used to pay for abortions. The Heritage Foundation forecasts savings of $1.4 trillion over the next decade.

Robert Ross is a researcher and social media strategist with the Pelican Institute for Public Policy. He can be contacted at rross@pelicanpolicy.org, and you can follow him on twitter.