This morning the House Budget Committee held hearings about strengthening the social safety net. In his opening statement, Chairman Paul Ryan pointed to the country’s experience with welfare reform in arguing that reforms of entitlement programs can benefit their recipients:
On the eve of the 1996 welfare reform, Democratic senator Frank Lautenberg voiced his concern that the bill would transform America into a Third World nation, leaving “children hungry and homeless . . . begging for money, begging for food, and even at eight and nine years old engaging in prostitution.”
Senator Lautenberg was not alone in making these kinds of apocalyptic predictions about that historic law. But what happened in reality?
Transforming welfare – by, among other things, instituting meaningful work requirements, setting time limits, and empowering states to design more effective programs – cut caseloads in half against a backdrop of falling poverty rates.
There was the single greatest reduction in poverty among children since the 1960s. Poverty among children in female-headed households fell from 55.4 percent in 1991, to 39.3 percent by 2001.
The Congressional Research Service said this past December that, “Since 1996 welfare reform, progress appears to have been largely sustained in both reducing welfare dependency and poverty among children in female-headed families, in spite of the recent recession.”
I made a similar point in a column last year.
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