When former President Bill Clinton signed the landmark 1996 welfare reform law, it was supposed to “end welfare as we know it.” Despite that pledge, spending on the 77 welfare programs administered by the federal government and the states has skyrocketed over the past 15 years.
But legislation introduced by Republican Study Committee Chairman Jim Jordan of Ohio, along with Republican Reps. Tim Scott of South Carolina and Scott Garrett of New Jersey, would cap welfare spending at 2007 levels once the unemployment rate reaches around 6.5 percent and would also introduce work requirements for many of these programs.
To put it in perspective, federal and state welfare spending on these 77 programs currently totals approximately $953 billion — larger than the $668 billion defense budget — according to a Heritage Foundation estimate. The Obama administration plans in the current fiscal year to increase welfare spending 42 percent above where it was when George W. Bush submitted his last budget in 2008.
The 2009 stimulus removed work requirements from the food stamp program and increased eligibility requirements, which has contributed to this increase.
As a result, the Obama administration has almost doubled spending on food stamps since taking office, increasing spending from $39 billion when he took office to approximately $75 billion this year.
“What Jordan is trying to do is bring welfare spending at least to where it was during the Bush years where it was still growing at 3 to 7 percent a year, but it wasn’t growing nearly at the rate that Obama has in place,” said Heritage Foundation welfare expert Katherine “Kiki” Bradley.
Estimates put forward by Bradley and Heritage Foundation fellow Robert Rector, who worked with the legislators to craft the bill, suggest the cap could save the federal government $1.4 trillion over the next decade. By contrast, the Obama budget projects total welfare spending to cost approximately $10.3 trillion over the next decade.
“We think this makes sense when we’re dealing with the fiscal situation that we’re dealing with,” Jordan told The Daily Caller. “You have to look at all mandatory spending and keep in mind those things that are actually going to help those families who going to be using these subsidies.
“Once you have an aggregate number on these programs and cap it, then you can begin to have the debate over which of these programs are so redundant and totally ineffective and how we can make the effective ones even better.”
Programs need to be effective for families that need assistance and not merely pay bureaucrats in Washington, D.C., Jordan said.
The RSC plan looks to the 1996 reform, which also was crafted with assistance from The Heritage Foundation, as a model for reforming programs such as food stamps and Section 8 housing assistance.
The 1996 reform transformed the Great Society Aid for Families With Dependent Children (AFDC) program into the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program and moved approximately 2.8 million families off welfare rolls and into the work force. It also reversed a trend that kept state welfare rolls from declining.
The current welfare reform proposal aims to have a similar impact on other assistance programs and reverse the Obama administration’s changes to the food-stamp program.
“[The food stamp program] has over 40 million recipients, and it is projected to spend $80 billion next year,” Bradley said. “Let’s put work requirements there and see if we can’t shrink the rolls from 40 million at least to some percentage down in the next few years.
“And that’s what the Jordan bill does with work requirements for able-bodied recipients.”
Jordan has yet to formally discuss his proposal with the GOP House leadership, but he has already had informal discussions with House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan of Wisconsin.
Ryan expressed his desire to tackle entitlement reform at a breakfast with reporters earlier this month, adding Republicans need to adequately educate the American people about the consequences of doing nothing.
“With this bill, you highlight the billions of dollars, you highlight the 77 different programs and the redundancies therein,” Jordan said regarding what Republicans need to tell voters about welfare reform. “You highlight the fact we were supposed to, when welfare took hold, end poverty, and we’ve seen dramatic increases in spending and definitely not a reduction.
“Republicans are always better, I think, when we talk about the big picture versus this individual program and this recipient who supposedly benefits from that particular program.”
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