Welfare re­form again

Know­ing that gov­ern­ment is a last re­source not a first re­source is a pow­er­ful in­cen­tive to work

The Washington Times Daily - - OPINION - By Cal Thomas Cal Thomas is a na­tion­ally syn­di­cated colum­nist. His lat­est book is “What Works: Com­mon Sense So­lu­tions for a Stronger Amer­ica” (Zon­der­van, 2014).

When Pres­i­dent Bill Clin­ton signed the welfare re­form act in 1996, which he ne­go­ti­ated with House Speaker Newt Gin­grich, the left claimed peo­ple would starve. They didn’t. Ac­cord­ing to the non­par­ti­san Cen­ter on Bud­get and Pol­icy Pri­or­i­ties, be­tween 1996 and 2000, the em­ploy­ment rate for sin­gle moth­ers in­creased from 63 per­cent to 76 per­cent.

In ad­di­tion, the over­all poverty rate has de­clined over the last half-cen­tury. Many able-bod­ied peo­ple who once re­lied on a gov­ern­ment check found jobs and started earn­ing a pay­check.

Good news, but the sideshow that has at­tached it­self to so much of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion has distracted many from things that ac­tu­ally af­fect peo­ple’s lives.

Pres­i­dent Trump last week signed an ex­ec­u­tive or­der, the pur­pose of which is, ac­cord­ing to a White House press re­lease, to re­duce poverty in Amer­ica “by pro­mot­ing op­por­tu­nity and eco­nomic mo­bil­ity.”

Some of that is al­ready hap­pen­ing with un­em­ploy­ment num­bers the low­est they’ve been in 17 years.

The press re­lease says that in 2017, “the Fed­eral Gov­ern­ment spent more than $700 bil­lion on low-in­come as­sis­tance.” It notes that since mod­ern welfare be­gan dur­ing the ad­min­is­tra­tion of Franklin Roo­sevelt, the sys­tem has be­come a large bu­reau­cracy with lit­tle in­cen­tive for peo­ple to look for work.

Con­ser­va­tives like to say they mea­sure suc­cess not by how many peo­ple re­ceive gov­ern­ment as­sis­tance, but by how many don’t. It is more than a sound bite.

Help­ing peo­ple be­come in­de­pen­dent of gov­ern­ment is real com­pas­sion.

The ex­ec­u­tive or­der ad­dresses what for many has be­come an ad­dic­tion to gov­ern­ment: “While bi­par­ti­san welfare re­form en­acted in 1996 was a step to­ward elim­i­nat­ing the eco­nomic stag­na­tion and so­cial harm that can re­sult from long-term Gov­ern­ment de­pen­dence, the welfare sys­tem still traps many re­cip­i­ents, es­pe­cially chil­dren, in poverty and is in need of fur­ther re­form and mod­ern­iza­tion in or­der to in­crease self-suf­fi­ciency, well­be­ing, and eco­nomic mo­bil­ity.”

The or­der also stresses the need for bet­ter so­cial net­work­ing to be­come more in­volved in help­ing able-bod­ied peo­ple to ac­quire the skills, ed­u­ca­tion, child care and es­pe­cially the mo­ti­va­tion to work. I would add that churches and re­li­gious in­sti­tu­tions that ben­e­fit from tax breaks should be en­cour­aged to do more to help poor peo­ple find em­ploy­ment.

The pres­i­dent cites an­other key to re­duc­ing the welfare rolls: “Ad­dress the chal­lenges of pop­u­la­tions that may par­tic­u­larly strug­gle to find and main­tain em­ploy­ment (in­clud­ing sin­gle par­ents, for­merly in­car­cer­ated in­di­vid­u­als, the home­less, sub­stance abusers, in­di­vid­u­als with dis­abil­i­ties and dis­con­nected youth) ...”

Ed­u­ca­tion choice should be an­other com­po­nent of welfare re­form. A good ed­u­ca­tion for a child cur­rently liv­ing in poverty is a ticket out of the sys­tem and into a bet­ter life.

I have writ­ten be­fore about the na­tion of Sin­ga­pore, where un­em­ploy­ment hov­ers around 2 per­cent. That’s be­cause the coun­try has no welfare pro­grams. If one is ca­pa­ble of work­ing and doesn’t work, he gets no check from the gov­ern­ment. The truly needy are cared for. Know­ing that gov­ern­ment is a last re­sort and not a first re­source and that if you don’t work, you won’t have money to buy food, is a pow­er­ful in­cen­tive to find a job.

What the ad­min­is­tra­tion should do to help sell its welfare re­form ini­tia­tive is lo­cate peo­ple who ben­e­fit­ted from the 1996 leg­is­la­tion and who are work­ing and sup­port­ing their fam­i­lies and fea­ture them at pub­lic events. Op­ti­mism al­most al­ways over­comes pes­simism and the story of peo­ple over­com­ing odds is Amer­ica’s story.

A good ed­u­ca­tion for a child cur­rently liv­ing in poverty is a ticket out of the sys­tem and into a bet­ter life.

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