A Publication of WTVP

When the Republicans took control of Congress in 1995 one of the issues at the forefront of the new leaders on Capitol Hill was reforming our nation’s system of welfare.

By the mid-1990s it had become abundantly clear our system of supporting the neediest in our country was failing its mission. In March 1994, the welfare caseload was at an all time high, with 5.1 million families receiving assistance.

In the fall of 1996, the failed welfare program Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) was replaced with a new approach to providing aid to Americans who need a social safety net.

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 instituted a fundamental shift in how welfare assistance should be delivered to needy families. The program has resulted in tremendous strides towards reducing poverty, child hunger, and the number of families and individuals who must rely on government assistance to survive.

By September 2001, families receiving welfare fell to 2.1 million. Low-income mothers, especially, have made tremendous progress, experiencing a significant rise in employment and an increase in earnings.

We have seen child poverty rates drop every year since the mid-1990s; the poverty rate for African-American children is now at a record low.

The welfare reforms instituted six years ago are now up for reauthorization. Last month the House passed legislation—the Personal Responsibility, Work, and Family Promotion Act—which renews and improves the programs that led to the welfare reform successes of the last half-decade. The new legislation retains stiff standards for welfare recipients, but it also allows states the flexibility to reach certain goals.

One of the first priorities under the new bill is to ensure the needs of children on welfare are met by encouraging more child-support payments to go directly to mothers and their children. Under the current system, state governments do not always have to turn over the child-support money they collect from deadbeat dads.

Our plan changes the system to give states a financial incentive to hand over more of that money to mothers and their children.

The new bill also increases the expectations when it comes to work. Under the current law, half of all a state’s welfare recipients are required to put in a 30-hour work week; the new plan calls for 70 percent of a state’s able-bodied recipients to put in 40 hours a week.

Also included in the reauthorization is an additional $4 billion for childcare.

We cannot allow the welfare successes of the past six years to go by the wayside, which is why the House passed this legislation.

I am hopeful the Senate will act quickly on this bill and we will have it to the president this summer. IBI