Welfare Reform Can Lift Americans out of Poverty

I’m honored my colleagues on Ways and Means have charged me with the responsibility of Ranking Member of the Income Support and Family Security Subcommittee.  We can build on the success of the 1996 welfare reform which has lifted millions out of poverty and given them a better life.

When we began the historic overhaul of our failing welfare system, many predicted that it would throw millions into poverty, especially vulnerable children.

Just the opposite has occurred.  Consider these numbers: In June 1994, there were 5.1 million families receiving cash welfare, an all time high.  Upon celebration of the 10 year anniversary of welfare reform, that number had fallen to 1.9 million families - a 62% decline nationwide.  In my home state of Illinois, the drop has been even greater with a decline of 85%.  In addition, the number of children lifted out of poverty from 1996 to 2004 is 1.4 million, including 700,000 African American children and 100,000 Hispanic children.

Clearly welfare reform was one of the greatest successes of the past ten years.

But we can, and should do more.

I want to make sure we help those in need and direct our limited resources to programs that succeed in making a difference.

We should work to find ways to provide better reimbursements for foster care providers.

And, we should look for ways to stop the poverty cycle before it starts.  Many advocates for the poor push the notion that the best way to lift people out of poverty is by giving them more money.

Yet increasing cash welfare payments to the poor has been a remarkably unsuccessful strategy in erasing poverty.

Research has shown that the most effective way to lift children out of poverty is when they have the opportunity to live in a two-parent household.  A study published by the Brookings Institution shows that poverty is concentrated among single parent families. For families with children, 32 percent are poor if the family is headed by a single parent but only 7 percent are poor of the family is headed by two married parents.

The breakup of families often creates or exacerbates the need for welfare programs.  I support the Healthy Marriage Initiative, a program dedicated to teaching people how to have a healthy marriage, so that they may not need government help.  Also, I intend to work to identify and reduce marriage penalties in programs under our jurisdiction.

I look forward to working with local social service providers, the Administration, state officials, as well as my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to make sure programs work successfully.  We have a chance to build upon our successes, and continue to improve the quality of life for needy people back home.