In New York, facing a $9 billion deficit, state legislators put welfare on the chopping block to head off a government shutdown. Lawmakers in New Jersey avert their own shutdown in a ninth-hour budget deal that manages to save $22 million for adults on welfare. Meanwhile, in budget-busting California, welfare recipients keep playing the casinos by withdrawing cash with their state-issued debit cards.

Trillions in welfare spending will drive America to bankruptcy unless Congress puts on the brakes and encourages able-bodied adults to seek work and act responsibly, rather than sink deeper into dependence on government. That’s the message of a new report by two of Heritage’s experts on the U.S. welfare system, Robert Rector and Katherine (Kiki) Bradley.

“Careful policy reforms focused on fiscal restraint, strong work requirements, the promotion of marriage and personal responsibility can transform the federal welfare system,” Rector and Bradley write, “reducing dependence on government and increasing the well-being of families and children.”

Rector and Bradley contend it’s still possible to restrain the reckless, headlong growth of the welfare state – despite efforts by the Obama administration and liberal lawmakers to undo the welfare reforms of 1996. They lay out principles for new action that, if embraced by President Obama and Congress, would fight poverty far more effectively while assisting and protecting Americans in need.

As matters now stand, Obama plans $10.3 trillion in means-tested welfare spending this decade, about $100,000 for every person in the poorest third of the population. But once the recession ends, the Heritage report states, Congress could save $1.4 trillion over the 10 years simply by rolling back spending to pre-recession levels in the nation’s six dozen welfare programs — and then holding future increases to inflation.

To hear Bradley talk about the need for real reforms of the welfare system, check out her new “Heritage in Focus” audio podcast. Then read the details and see the eye-opening new charts in the Bradley-Rector paper, “Confronting the Unsustainable Growth of Welfare Entitlements: Principles of Reform and the Next Steps.”