It’s been nearly 50 years since Lyndon B. Johnson launched his War on Poverty, and much has been debated about the appropriate role of government in poverty and social welfare.  However well-intentioned these federal fix-alls might have been, recent statistics prove that the liberal model of Big Government handouts and nanny-state dependency simply isn’t working.  In fact, poverty in America is on the rise.  For example, Leon County, Florida – the largest county in my congressional district – has seen its poverty rate increase from 17% in 2007, to over 26% just three years later.

For far too long, the federal government has incentivized the very behaviors that it is attempting to discourage, contributing to increased poverty in the process.  The dissolution of the family and a lack of emphasis on work and personal accountability are key causes of poverty.

Over time, this misguided model has deprived people of their dignity and personal sense of accomplishment.  There is an intrinsic value in needing to be needed – to feel that we are making a meaningful contribution to society.  Conservatives in Congress recognize this truth and are working together to introduce meaningful legislative solutions to our nation’s poverty crisis.

That’s why promoting work and personal responsibility was the centerpiece of the successful welfare reform of 1996.

Congressman Jim Jordan (R-OH) recently joined me, along with representatives from The Heritage Foundation and The Center for Neighborhood Enterprise (CNE), for a tour of George Wythe High School in Richmond, Virginia.  The school, previously plagued by violence, high truancy, and crime, has experienced a dramatic turnaround as a result of CNE’s Violence-Free Zone program.

This violence-reduction and high-risk student mentoring program prepares students to learn by equipping them through relationships with the skills and knowledge necessary to overcome violence. The Richmond public schools system has worked in conjunction with CNE to create the Violence-Free Zone. Youth advisors who are affiliated with the Richmond Outreach Center, a local church, and who have overcome similar challenges, work as hall monitors, mediators, character coaches, and trusted friends.  For the 2009-2010 school year, George Wythe reported a 26% decrease in fighting, a 68% decrease in truancy, and a 63% reduction in dropouts since the inception of the Violence-Free Zone program.

Seeing firsthand the success of this program has only strengthened my commitment to empowering organizations like the Center for Neighborhood Enterprise, who help overcome social breakdown by building relationships that transform communities.  I look forward to continuing to share my testimony with congressional colleagues who, like me, are ready to move past the tried and tired initiatives of the past and on to real solutions for America’s poverty crisis.

Rep. Steve Southerland is Republican Member of Congress from Florida.