- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 15, 2002

As the House of Representatives prepares to vote to reauthorize the 1996 welfare reform law, it's worth noting that probably no other postwar social legislation has had an impact as immediate and as deep as the historic 1996 legislation. The evidence is as stunning as it is pervasive.

Welfare dependency has plunged. Since 1996, the number of families receiving cash assistance from the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program has plummeted by more than 50 percent. While the strong economy played an important role, the House Ways and Means Committee found that the welfare caseload continued its decline, falling 7 percent, even as the unemployment rate increased by 25 percent, from 3.9 percent to 4.9 percent, between September 2000 and September 2001.

Meanwhile, contrary to the hysterical 1996 predictions of the self-appointed protectors of the nation's children, the child poverty rate fell significantly since welfare was reformed. After declining from 20.5 percent in 1996 to 16.2 percent in 2000, child poverty is at its lowest rate in nearly a quarter-century. The poverty rate for black children is at its lowest point on record, while the poverty rate among Hispanic children has experienced its greatest four-year decline in history.

The teen birthrate, which began falling in 1991, has continued to decline each year since 1996. For black teen-agers, who represented a disproportionate share of welfare caseloads, the teen birth rate has plummeted nearly a third since 1991, steadily decreasing since 1996. Even the percentage of all births that were to unmarried women, which reached the alarming level of 33.2 percent in 2000, has appeared to level off since the mid-1990s.

Due largely to the work requirements in the 1996 reform bill, employment of current and former welfare recipients has dramatically increased. Compared to less than 7 percent in 1992 and only 11 percent in 1996, by fiscal 1999, 33 percent of current adult welfare recipients were working. And, as the House Ways and Means Committee has found, earnings of welfare recipients have increased significantly.

The task of Congress today is to build upon these achievements. Essentially following the White House's February initiative, the House Ways and Means Committee has crafted a reauthorization bill that would increase weekly work requirements from 30 hours to 40 hours, which could include as many as 16 hours in vocational training, education or drug rehabilitation. The legislation would eventually require 70 percent of adult welfare recipients to have jobs, up from 50 percent today.

A major Democratic demand has involved the amount of money allocated for day care despite the fact that the Ways and Means reauthorization bill would continue annual appropriations of $16.5 billion even while the caseload has plummeted by more than 50 percent. To go the extra mile, Ways and Means Chairman Bill Thomas has committed to adding an additional $2 billion over five years to help welfare parents pay for child care. Now, there should be no excuse for voting against this sensible reauthorization.

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