During the 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson launched his "War on Poverty" which greatly expanded government spending and the federal bureaucracy in an attempt to fight poverty in America. More than 25 years later, the effort has proven to be a complete failure. Despite spending more than $3.5 trillion (in 1990 dollars) poverty rates remain unchanged, households headed by single mothers continue to rise, and teenage pregnancy rates have skyrocketed.
Indeed, a record-high 5 million families are enrolled in Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) -- up from 3.7 million families in 1988; 92 percent of the children on AFDC do not have a father in the home; out-of-wedlock births among 15-to-17 year olds have more than doubled since 1965; and fewer that 1 percent of AFDC families are required to work. It is clear that now is the time to break the cycle of poverty and hopelessness that is destroying families and trapping new generations of Americans.
You will be pleased to know that the House and Senate have passed H.R. 3734, the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, which is a comprehensive welfare reform bill that I strongly supported. This legislation overhauls the American welfare system to reduce government dependency, require welfare recipients to enter work programs and cap total welfare spending. Despite twice vetoing similar legislation, the President finally signed our bill into law.
The bill's main thrust is to give states greater flexibility over benefits programs, work programs, and AFDC and Supplemental Security Income payments and requirements. This legislation will overhaul the nation's current welfare system by:
replacing a number of federal poverty and child care programs (including AFDC, Job Opportunities and Basic Skills, and Emergency Assistance) with two block grants to the state,; allowing states to establish their own criteria for benefits and eligibility; limiting benefits for certain able-bodied adults to two years of assistance without work, and limiting their lifetime benefits to a maximum of five years (while retaining the option for states to grant hardship exemptions to 20 percent of their caseload); prohibiting most non-citizens who arrive in the U.S. from receiving federal welfare benefits (except for emergency assistance, federal disaster assistance, and services to protect the public health) during their first five years in the U.S.; reforming the federal food stamps and commodity distribution programs in order to streamline and simplify their operations; requiring able-bodied adults to work in order to receive food stamp assistance; and tightening up eligibility requirements for receiving the SSI benefits.
Since the 1960s, we have allowed a program originally designed to help families through a difficult time to become a destructive system that discourages able-bodied citizens from working and traps generations of Americans into a cycle of government dependency.
I believe this welfare reform package will help those who are truly in need of public assistance, while at the same time putting a end to the abuses of the welfare system by able bodied individuals who refuse to provide for themselves.
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