To most Americans, the phrase “welfare reform” conjures memories of a bipartisan law that President Clinton said would “end welfare as we know it” in 1996. So why – 15 years later – has the situation only gotten worse?

First, a little background (watch this quick video, too). The 1996 law replaced a failing program (AFDC) with a new one (TANF) that required able-bodied adults to either work or prepare for work in order to receive benefits. These requirements have helped millions of families become able to provide for themselves again.

So far, so good … except that combined state and federal welfare spending has almost doubled since 1996. Americans have spent $16 trillion on welfare since President Lyndon Johnson declared a War on Poverty in 1964, and we’re slated to spend another $10 trillion or more over the next decade. But even with all these resources put toward assistance for the poor, poverty is actually higher today than it was in the 1970s.

Decades of experience prove we can’t just throw money at the problem of poverty.  We need a smarter approach that promotes self-reliance and acknowledges the interconnected nature of all our anti-poverty programs. That’s why it is vital to have welfare reform now.

  • Build on the Success of 1996 – The most effective welfare benefit is the one that leads to a job, which is why we should apply new TANF-like work requirements to food stamp benefits.
  • Account for the National Welfare Budget – The federal government has 77 different programs run by various agencies that provide benefits and assistance specifically to poor and low-income Americans. We should give taxpayers a clearer picture of total welfare spending at the state, local, and federal level by requiring the President to report these figures in his annual budget.
  • Return to Pre-Recession Budget – After unemployment falls to 6.5% or lower, overall federal spending on means-tested welfare should return to its 2007-level and be allowed to grow with inflation.

The aim of welfare should be to help people reach the point where they no longer need it. Yet our current system too often fails to meet that goal, even as the financial costs grow unsustainably. Don’t let the system crash. Reboot it with the welfare reform now.

Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH) is Chairman of the Republican Study Committee

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