- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 10, 2002

Here's a simple quiz: What government program: (1) measures success by how few people collect benefits; (2) promotes work and personal responsibility; (3) is supported by politicians on the left, center, and right; and (4) has saved taxpayers billions of dollars?

Impossible? A miracle? Actually, it's welfare reform.

The nation's welfare program, recreated in 1996, has achieved remarkable results and with stronger bipartisan congressional support than the founding of Medicare in 1965. Caseloads have declined from 14 million in 1994 to just 5 million today. Nearly 9 million people left welfare in just eight years. Work and earnings are at record levels for families on welfare and also for those who left welfare to join the work force.

Increased work by low-income moms and dads has lifted nearly 3 million children from poverty since 1996. Poverty among black children and families headed by single mothers groups likely to be trapped on welfare are at all-time lows.

We've come light years from the old failed AFDC system that provided cash payments and expected little or nothing of individuals in return.

The old way rewarded states when more families enrolled in welfare, punished work and personal responsibility, and trapped families in a cycle of dependence an average of 13 years.

The new block grant program of today provides flexibility to individual states as they reduce dependence and reward work. A five-year limit on federal benefits encourages parents to prepare for and keep jobs to support their families not just in the short-term, but for a lifetime.

In my Northern California home, welfare reform has helped many in ways the failed AFDC program could not. Six years ago, Pang a Laotian immigrant with extremely limited language skills feared participation in the English-speaking work force. At the same time, she had the enormous responsibility of raising her seven children and caring for her disabled husband, a Vietnam War veteran.

After welfare reform was enacted, Pang finally sought assistance and found a job through CalWORKS Employment Services after 10 years on welfare dependence. She gained confidence and work experience from her part-time sewing job and language skills from a course in English. Now Pang has a full-time job that helps her provide for her family in ways she could not previously imagine. This is just one of many success stories from the 9 million people who have already left welfare.

Welfare reform has changed lives in dramatic ways, but there is still more to do. President Bush has proposed building on welfare reform's success by strengthening work requirements and developing more and better programs to encourage healthy marriages and stronger families. Today, I plan to unveil legislation that would implement most of the president's welfare reform proposal.

The reasons for success are clear. Despite reforms emphasizing work, nearly 58 percent of adult welfare recipients today are not working not even one hour. The president has responded by setting high standards. He wants 70 percent of welfare recipients working, and he has offered more drug treatment, counseling, education and training for those who need extra help to take that important step.

Single moms have one of the toughest jobs in the world. For single moms on welfare it is even tougher. I believe children living on welfare are among our most vulnerable, and where a two parent, married family is possible, we should encourage it.

Studies show that children on welfare who live with two married parents are less likely to drop out of school, join gangs, take drugs or get pregnant. Childbearing by teen-agers remains at epidemic levels in low-income areas and too many families break up or never form, ensuring millions of kids remain at risk of welfare dependence.

That's why the president has included added funds to strengthen families and encourage healthy marriages. This is a good first step in correcting the marriage penalties in dozens of welfare programs and the tax code. Other initiatives focus on encouraging fathers to get involved in their children's lives, a missing element in too many low-income families.

Promoting more work, strengthening families, and improving children's prospects for the future: The next round of welfare reform is both ambitious and necessary to realize the potential of millions of low-income parents and children. Fortunately, based on the remarkable results welfare reform has achieved so far, it's not impossible and it won't take a miracle.

Wally Herger, California Republican, is a member of the U.S. House Representatives and is chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Human Resources.

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