With a new Republican administration in tow, conservative lawmakers are renewing their call for welfare reform that incentivizes families rather than punishing them.
“When we look at what we want for our society, when we look at the key ingredients that have to be contained within any thriving civilization, there are a couple of common themes,” Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, said at an anti-poverty welfare event in the District of Columbia. “One is a strong family structure, and another involves opportunities for work.”
The problem, Lee said, is the current safety net, “in many respects, discourages these things, or undermines these interests.”
“In some instances, it discourages marriage, the formation of a family to begin with,” he said.
Lee, along with several other conservative lawmakers in favor of welfare reform, was speaking at The Heritage Foundation’s 2016 Antipoverty Forum, where policy experts and community leaders came together to discuss how to help low-income Americans from both the state and federal levels.
Lee, joined on stage by Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Rep. Dave Brat, R-Va., addressed the Welfare Reform and Upward Mobility Act, which would make significant changes to the nation’s welfare system. With President-elect Donald Trump set to take control of the Oval Office next year, they hope to make this legislation a reality.
“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,” Jordan said, speaking at Thursday’s forum. “That’s pretty ridiculous, right? It’s anti-family–the key institution in our culture.”
The lawmakers cited the example of an unmarried couple with two children who receive assistance under the Earned Income Tax Credit, which is one of the government’s largest federal welfare cash assistance programs. If each individual were earning $20,000 out of wedlock, for example, they would lose about 10 percent of their benefits once they got married.
“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.”
Attendees also addressed the importance of religious institutions in the fight against poverty, vowing to oppose efforts that they argue are discriminatory toward people of faith.
“We have got to resolve where we are as a nation, where we are on religious liberty,” said Sen. James Lankford, R-Okla., the keynote speaker of the event.
The Obama administration, he said “has tried to isolate people of faith,” and “we have got to turn that back.”
Referencing faith-based adoption agencies that were forced to shut down for refusing to place children with same-sex couples, Lankford, added, “Why should the federal government care about their faith?”
The result, he added, is that “our country is becoming afraid of faith.”
While there are some legislative measures that he believes will fix the problem, the real difference, he said, comes from homes, churches, and communities.
“Our nonprofit entities are so much more efficient at taking care of poverty than our government,” he said. “Mentor a family. It will make a world of a difference.”