The Welfare Reform and Upward Mobility Act (H.R. 2832 / S. 1290), introduced by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah), would help reduce poverty and government dependency, increase self-sufficiency, restore families, and strengthen the effective and popular work requirements on means-tested welfare programs that have been gutted by the Obama administration.
In 1996, President Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, which became popularly known as “welfare reform,” into law. The legislation transformed the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) into Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), a program intended to provide temporary financial assistance to low-income families while encouraging work and self-sufficiency. Most significantly, the 1996 welfare reform included mandatory federal work requirements, stipulating that welfare recipients must be engaged in work or some type of work activity in order to receive TANF benefits.
According to Robert Rector, Senior Research Fellow in Domestic Policy Studies in the Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity at the Heritage Foundation, and Rachel Sheffield’s paper Setting Priorities for Welfare Reform:
Mandatory federal work requirements for recipients were at the heart of the change, which led to significant decreases in the program’s rolls, increased work among former recipients, and historic reductions in child poverty.
Despite the success of the 1996 welfare reform, 20 years later there’s still much to be done to ensure that the welfare system moves people toward work and self-sufficiency rather than toward government dependency. Rector and Sheffield continue:
The United States’ means-tested welfare system [still] consists of over 80 programs that provide cash, food, housing, medical care, and social services to poor and lower-income Americans. Total annual spending on these programs reached $1 trillion in 2015. More than 75 percent of this funding comes from the federal government.
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Although the welfare reform of the 1990s was popular and initially successful, it was actually quite limited. Of 80 welfare programs, only TANF was reformed, and even in TANF, the vigor of reform has nearly disappeared.
Rep. Jordan and Sen. Lee have restarted the conversation, advocating for conservative reforms that will help reduce poverty and government dependency, increase self-sufficiency, restore families, and strengthen the effective and popular work requirements that have been gutted by the Obama administration. These ideas, and more, are found in the most comprehensive and serious welfare reform legislation introduced since Republicans regained control of Congress in 2010: The newly reintroduced Welfare Reform and Upward Mobility Act (H.R. 2832 / S. 1290).
The bill contains five major policy reforms:
- Improves accounting of government welfare spending by requiring the federal government to report all means-tested welfare spending—including state and local—as well as to report estimated spending levels over the next decade.
- Strengthens work requirements for all able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDS) who receive food stamps (SNAP). Similar reforms have been implemented in Maine, Kansas, and Alabama with great success. It also creates a new work requirement for parents in SNAP, modeled after the 1996 TANF law.
- Strengthens TANF work requirements by implementing a new “work preparation requirement” for the 50 percent of the TANF caseload that is currently completely idle.
- Phases down the federal involvement in subsidized housing programs by decreasing the federal share of funding by 50 percent over ten years and transferring fiscal responsibility for these programs to the states.
- Prohibits any funding for abortion.
While there is more to be done to achieve comprehensive welfare reform, such as rooting out fraud in the Earned Income Tax Credit and Additional Child Tax Credit and eliminating marriage penalties, Senator Lee and Congressman Jordan’s Welfare Reform and Upward Mobility Act is not just a white paper, but a serious and significant first step toward real welfare reform.
This bill builds on the successful 1996 law by restoring and strengthening TANF work requirements and by placing real work requirements into SNAP, the second largest means-tested welfare program in operation today. It requires accountability for welfare spending and moves toward creating true federalism in America’s welfare system. If enacted, this legislation would be the start of Welfare Reform 2.0, by compassionately encouraging work while saving the taxpayers trillions of dollars over the next twenty years.