Mike Needham

No longer were recipients simply depending on the government to support them. Suddenly they had to go out and find work or at least prove that they were devoting 20 to 30 hours a week towards preparing for a job.

Just 12 years later, 2.8 million Americans, about 60% of the overall caseload, left welfare and found jobs. Imagine that!

Unfortunately, only one of the more than 70 welfare programs was reformed. Today, the success of TANF has halted. Much of it was the recession, but much of it was the massive expansion of the welfare state. Today, one in seven Americans are on food stamps, and while some are new recipients who had never applied for the program before, more than half of those on food stamps have received aid for eight and a half years or longer.

Where is the incentive to leave the program?

As with most government programs which don’t show results, Congress’s answer was to throw more money at the problem, instead of reforming the programs so that they work better. If we apply the 1996 TANF reforms to the other 70 or so welfare programs, then we could achieve real reform and help the 40 million people who currently receive government aid.

Fortunately, some solid conservatives recognize the need and are laying out a way forward.

Congressmen Jim Jordan (R-OH), Tim Scott (R–SC), and Scott Garrett (R–NJ) have introduced the Welfare Reform Act of 2011, H.R.1167. The bill expands on the success of TANF by applying the same work-oriented policy to the other federal welfare programs. A growing coalition of Senate Republicans are preparing to introduce companion legislation.

If Congress wants to do something really meaningful for the country, especially for those who are most in need, then restructuring welfare is the way to go. Not only will shifting welfare recipients from government dependents to self-sufficient taxpayers bring in new revenue and decrease the need for wasteful government spending, it will also empower them to achieve the American dream.

Mike Needham

Mike Needham is the Chief Executive Officer of Heritage Action for America, a grassroots advocacy organization dedicated to advancing legislation that promotes freedom, opportunity and prosperity for all Americans.