Speaking at a Heritage Foundation anti-poverty event in Washington D.C., lawmakers said the current welfare system undermines key components of a successful society: strong families and opportunities for individuals to provide for their families.
“Think about what we now have–don’t get married, don’t get a job, have more kids, and we’ll give you more money,” said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio). “That’s pretty ridiculous, right? It’s anti-family–the key institution in our culture.”
Beyond welfare benefits, the lawmakers noted that the nation’s tax system is also currently stacked against low income families.
“I always tell folks: The first institution the good Lord put together wasn’t the church, wasn’t the state, it was moms and dads and kids,” Jordan said. “It was family. We have an anti-family welfare system, and we have an anti-work welfare [system]. The two values that helped make America the greatest country ever. Strong families, strong commitment to the work ethic. That’s what we have to incentivize.”
Part of encouraging welfare reform with a focus on the family, according to the lawmakers, will mean walking back Obama administration policies that have isolated Americans of faith.
“We have got to resolve where we are as a nation, where we are on religious liberty,” Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.) told the crowd.
The conservative legislators say they plan to advance a welfare reform bill introduced by Sens. Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Jordon in May 2016. The legislation, called the Welfare Reform and Upward Mobility Act, would build upon welfare reforms passed in 1996, including strengthening work requirements for welfare recipients.
A fact sheet about the bill explains the importance, and the need for more, of those requirements: “Work requirements establish reciprocity between the taxpayer and the individual receiving assistance. Furthermore, a work requirement serves as a gatekeeper: Assistance is available to those who need it, but individuals who can work are moved towards work. However, only four of the federal government’s means-tested welfare programs include work requirements.”
The welfare reform package would also initiate new accounting requirements to help Americans better understand the total cost of the nation’s social safety net. In addition, it would shift more of the burden for housing assistance onto states.
President-elect Donald Trump is likely to work with lawmakers on the package considering his praise for the 1996 reforms in his 2011 book, Time to Get Tough.
He wrote: “To get your check, you had to prove that you were enrolled in job-training or trying to find work. But here’s the rub: the 1996 Welfare Reform Act only dealt with one program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), not the other seventy-six welfare programs which, today, cost taxpayers more than $900 billion annually. We need to take a page from the 1996 reform and do the same for other welfare programs. Benefits should have strings attached to them. After all, if it’s our money recipients are getting, we the people should have a say in how it’s spent. The way forward is to do what we did with AFDC and attach welfare benefits to work.”