Is Welfare Keeping Americans Trapped in Poverty?

By Juliegrace Brufke

GOP lawmakers said the nation’s welfare system is keeping Americans trapped in poverty during the Ways and Means Committee hearing on the welfare system in 10 years Tuesday.

“The current system is a disjointed maze of more than 80 different programs that have been layered on top of one another with little regard for coordination, duplication, or purpose,” Chairman Kevin Brady said in his opening statement. “For decades, money has been thrown blindly at this system, without a genuine regard for effectiveness in actually delivering real results. This approach lacks compassion and respect for American families trapped in poverty.”

Citing a chart depicting the expansive number of programs, Republicans argued the system needs to be streamlined to prevent fraud, saying the country is currently paying people not to work.

Source: House Ways and Means Committee Staff, using Congressional Research Service reports and other data.

Source: House Ways and Means Committee Staff, using Congressional Research Service reports and other data.

Karin VanZant – the executive director of CareSource Life Services, which provides healthcare coverage through Medicaid, the Healthcare Exchange and Medicare Advantage – who was a welfare recipient of welfare recipient at one time, said she believes social safety net programs were designed to provide temporary relief, but have led to some relying on welfare for four decades.

“The system is well-intentioned, but too often misaligned with government programs that are failing to move Americans out of a life of subsidy and dependency and into a life of economic independence, safety and social well-being,” she told the committee. “We need to move people into employment that will lead to a higher quality of life.”

Democratic Rep. Jim McDermott of Washington said there are many examples of the welfare system helping people climb out of poverty, including former Democratic Rep. Lynn Woolsey of California who managed to go from being on food stamps to being elected as a member of Congress.

“There are people for whom those programs work, I mean we are acting like it doesn’t work anywhere,” McDermott said.

Under the current system, Republicans said many people are staying on welfare because they receive more money through government subsides than through a low-paying job.

Tarren Bragdon, the CEO of the Foundation for Government Accountability, said Maine and Kansas have had exponential success with reimplementing a work requirement

“Those who didn’t meet the work requirement were transitioned off welfare after three months,” he said. “But guess what happened next? They went back to work in record numbers and are now better off.”

Bragdon said incomes increased by 127 percent in Kansas and within a year, 60 percent had full-time jobs.

VanZant said she doesn’t agree people should be forced into work, but believes the math behind welfare programs is problematic in that people in lower-wage jobs are seeing their subsidies decline yet aren’t making up the amount with their incomes.

“If I’m making $8.10 an hour, which is minimum wage in Ohio and I’m working 32 hours a week and I’m losing 50 or 60 percent of my food stamps, or all of the before I even receive my first paycheck how in the world am I supposed to piece that all together?” she told the panel, adding incentives need to be put in place for when people go back to work. “One of the things we’re suggesting is we look at the spectrum of safety-net programs and look at how we can put some of them into place after works starts to allow for a slope instead of a cliff.”

Both parties agreed that teaching Americans the skills to gain employment is a critical component to get people working.

Republican Rep. Dave Reichert of Washington said politics need to be put aside to get people the help they need to move up.

“Education is absolutely key, training is absolutely key the engagement of the private key is absolutely essential for all of this to work,” he said. “I don’t usually do this, I usually ask questions, but I just had to be passionate for a moment and make a plea for this panel to come together for the interest of those who are homeless.

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