- The Washington Times - Monday, October 13, 2003

In the wake of the 1996 reform law — pushed through by the Republican Congress and somewhat grudgingly signed into law by President Clinton — welfare is evolving from a blank-check system for subsistence living into a program geared toward making families and individuals more successful.

Public funds are increasingly going for such things as job-training, child care, drug rehabilitation and mental health, while the cash payments that traditionally defined welfare (and were most likely to be misspent) are declining, a report in the New York Times yesterday suggests. Statistics tabulated by the Department of Health and Human Services show that the proportion of federal and state welfare funds spent on cash assistance fell last year to 44 percent, down from 77 percent in 1997. By contrast, the portion spent on various programs aimed at giving the poor an opportunity to better themselves rose to 56 percent, up from 23 percent in 1997.

These changes are due to the 1996 welfare reform law, which limited the amount of time recipients could receive welfare and gave states broad latitude in spending the funds they received from the federal government. Since the law was passed, the number of people on welfare has dropped by well over half — from 12.2 million to 5 million. The law forced welfare to develop into a system that primarily helps individuals find, keep and become qualified for employment.

The number of families receiving cash assistance has decreased steadily every year since 1996. This did not appear all that noteworthy during the economic boom of the late 1990s. But remarkably, the trend has held, even during more the more recent period of economic fragility.

Studies show that children born into the welfare system tend to be welfare-dependent later in their lives. The 1996 welfare law is breaking that vicious cycle — giving adults a support system as they join the workforce and allowing children to witness countless examples of productive parents overcoming difficult circumstances. The new system is a building block toward creation of a new paradigm for the system: Parents better their own lives while teaching their children skills that will enable them to avoid the welfare trap as they mature.

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