Louisiana’s official poverty rate of 19.6% in 2021 was the highest in the country, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The map below by American Progress shows that higher poverty rates tend to be in the south. 

There has been $25 trillion (inflation-adjusted) spent on the “War on Poverty” since it was declared in 1964 and about $1 trillion spent nationally every year, including billions of dollars in Louisiana. In fact, state and local spending per capita on public welfare in Louisiana of $2,924 ranked the 12th highest in the country in 2020. 

Given so much taxpayer money has been spent on safety nets, shouldn’t there be fewer than one of every five people in poverty in the Pelican State?

We believe so! 

This is a reason that the Pelican Institute recently released “Louisiana’s Comeback Agenda” to help struggling Louisianans find long-term self-sufficiency through a career instead of safety nets.

The failures of the current government safety net system are expensive and costly. These programs should be easy for people to navigate, produce better outcomes, and empower individuals to return to the workforce. To better understand the extent to which programs are achieving these goals, lawmakers should call for routine performance audits. 

Performance audits dive deeper into the programs than typical financial audits by looking at not only expenditures of taxpayer money on these programs but also examining their outcomes. They provide recommendations for improving outcomes and lowering costs by identifying waste, duplication of efforts, and opportunities for consolidation or outsourcing. Routine, independent performance audits will determine whether programs effectively serve their intended purpose and hopefully make improvements if not.

Fortunately, Louisiana’s Legislative Auditor’s office already does some of this. On its website, they note: 

“Performance Audit Services may audit any state agency, office, department, board, commission, institution, division, committee, program, or legal entity created within the legislative or executive branch of state government. The division conducts at least one performance audit of each executive branch department over a seven year period but performance audits may also result from topics of interest to the public, or requests from legislators, agencies, and other parties. Performance audits improve the transparency of state government.”

And there have been some fruit from previous audits. 

In 2021, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor conducted a performance audit of the Louisiana Department of Children and Family Services’ administration of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program in response to a request from the Louisiana Senate. 

The audit report revealed that “DCFS does not collect sufficient outcome information to determine the overall effectiveness of TANF-funded programs and initiatives. The current performance measures that DCFS uses to monitor and evaluate TANF programs are mostly output and process measures which are not useful in determining whether programs are effective at meeting TANF goals.” 

Auditors also found that “Louisiana has the lowest Work Participation Rate (WPR) in the nation at 3.5% for the federal fiscal year 2020. Under the WPR, states must engage a certain percentage of families receiving cash assistance in specific work activities, such as employment, job searches, or vocational training.”  

This valuable information was provided because a one-time performance audit of the TANF program was requested. Policymakers and the public would benefit from independent reviews like this on a recurring basis to identify program strengths and weaknesses and take swift action when necessary. By doing so, we can get taxpayer-provided resources to those who need them so they can find career paths out of poverty instead of being trapped living in poverty.