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EDITORIAL: Welfare reform redux

Expand opportunity by applying ‘96 lessons to 76 programs

- The Washington Times - Monday, April 11, 2011

Ask Americans what federal spending they most want to cut, and many say "welfare." Sixteen House conservatives introduced a thorough welfare-reform bill March 25. Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, Wisconsin Republican, incorporated major parts of the bill in his budget proposal last week. If passed, new reforms promise to save over a trillion dollars within a decade while putting tens of thousands into meaningful jobs.

Welfare as we know it encompasses 77 different federal programs. In 1996, Congress pressured President Clinton into signing reforms of the biggest of those, formerly known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). Over the next 12 years, caseloads fell from 12.3 million recipients to 3.7 million, and the official poverty rate fell in one decade by more than 10 percent. It was one of the most successful domestic policy initiatives of the past half-century. A House bill spearheaded by Ohio Republican Rep. Jim Jordan would apply those lessons to the other 76 forms of welfare - which have continued to grow as the former AFDC remained in check.

The two key parts of the 1996 reform required able-bodied recipients to work (or acquire more training) and provided incentives for states to reduce their caseloads. Mr. Jordan's Welfare Reform Act of 2011 and Mr. Ryan's budget proposal apply similar provisions to the massive federal food-stamp program, which nearly doubled in expense to $75 billion since 2008. The Jordan bill also would provide grants to states that show reductions in poverty.

The legislation would require the president's annual budget to report the aggregate spending levels for all the welfare programs combined. Once the national unemployment rate drops below 6.5 percent, that aggregate level would have to be reduced to the amount spent on those programs overall in 2007 (adjusted for inflation), before President Obama's policies forced a 42 percent hike in just three years.

"Unless we start looking at this fractured system as one unit, exploding costs will bring the whole thing down," Mr. Jordan told The Washington Times. As the 1996 reforms showed, work requirements and tighter parameters save money and alleviate poverty. It's a win-win solution.

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