Politics & Policy

Here’s the Right Way to Do Welfare Reform

(Ivansmuk/Dreamstime)

For far too long, progressives have trapped many Americans in cycles of generational poverty through failed social programs and over-regulation of free enterprise.

Despite the trillions of dollars spent on hundreds of welfare programs in the 50 years since President Johnson launched the so-called “war on poverty,” there has been almost no change in the number of impoverished Americans.

Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan once observed that “It cannot too often be stated that the issue of welfare is not what it costs those who provide it, but what it costs those who receive it.”

The Liberal policy of spending our way out of poverty has failed the most vulnerable Americans, leaving whole generations reliant on a paltry government allowance, with little incentive to break the cycle of dependence.

It is time to approach poverty alleviation with a conservative vision, one that promotes work, education and family structure.

On April 16, I signed the HOPE Act into law in Kansas. Instead of offering individuals little more than a check, Kansas has decided to offer hope in the form of a brighter future for themselves and their families. The HOPE Act includes a requirement that able-bodied adult welfare recipients either work 20 hours per week or receive job training.

Work is good for the soul. It empowers individuals to take control of their own lives, giving recipients better education, job training, self-confidence, and economic security.

Education can help move people from poverty to prosperity. Data tell us that men and women with less than a high school education comprise 21.2 percent of the “working poor,” those who spend at least 27 weeks in the labor force in a given year. That number drops to 4.9 percent with an associate’s degree and 2.1 percent for those with a bachelor’s degree.

In the last 40 years in America, we have seen the number of traditional family households drop from 81 to 66 percent. When compared with married-parent households, more than four times as many single-parent households are below the poverty line and receiving food stamps.

We know that work, education, and family structure matter. We know that the most charitable act is not to hand someone a check, but to help someone get an education and a job that sustains them and their families for generations to come.

This new legislation in Kansas implements common-sense reforms to welfare, promotes fiscal and personal responsibility, and empowers Kansans to break the cycle of generational poverty. More importantly, this legislation gives hope to thousands of Kansans who simply want the ability to live life on their own terms, free from government dependence and the chains of poverty. It is a model that has been proven to work in Kansas: From December 2013 to December 2014, these policies — now codified into law — helped more than 6,100 Kansan TANF recipients find well-paying jobs. It can work elsewhere.

I have long held the belief that government should empower citizens to live life free from the bondage of poverty and government dependence. The most effective way to fight poverty is to fight for individuals who are struggling to break out from under its heavy burden, by giving them a chance at a well-paying job.

My economic and domestic policies seek to make Kansas the best state in the nation to raise a family and grow a business. Economic opportunity for every Kansan is made possible because of our refusal to tax and regulate businesses into the ground.

The HOPE Act represents Kansas’s efforts to find a new path, one that leads to opportunity and hope instead of dependency and failed government programs. If you have an idea or the desire to work hard, the American Dream should be within your reach, not kept hidden by unnecessary regulation and government programs that foster dependency instead of opportunity.

Sam Brownback is the governor of Kansas.

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