- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The federal government’s patchwork welfare system still contains dozens of programs that are too costly, redundant and hard to use, according to testimony at a congressional hearing Tuesday.

Years of research have shown that the current array of programs for the needy are “too fragmented and overly complex,” said Kay Brown, director of income security, workforce and education issues at Government Accountability Office (GAO).

When states run dozens of programs for cash, food, child care and employment services that all have different rules from Washington but serve the same populations, it can be “inefficient” and “unnecessarily costly,” she said.

Rep. Geoff Davis, Kentucky Republican and chairman of the House Ways and Means subcommittee on human resources, said applicants face a “labyrinth” of programs in order to get aid.

On a day in which House Republicans released an ambitious federal budget blueprint affecting nearly every major federal program, Heritage Foundation domestic policy expert Robert Rector testified that U.S. government spending on 69 welfare programs is at a record high $940 billion a year, dwarfing spending on education and defense. His recommendation: overhaul programs now up for reauthorization, such as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, and reduce spending on all anti-poverty programs to 2007, pre-recession levels.

House Democrats, however, bristled at the idea of certain means-tested programs even being called “welfare.” Many college students who use Pell grants “would be shocked to see themselves counted as on welfare,” said Rep. Joseph Crowley, New York Democrat.

Congress should take care when it examines “duplicative” programs, as many serve specific populations, urged LaDonna Pavetti, a top welfare expert at Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

“It’s not the case” that people are using several of the same kind of programs.

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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