The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

By Adrian Smith
U.S. Congressman, Nebraska 

Empowering Individuals


December 13, 2017

Empowering people to achieve independence and productivity is our mission on the Ways and Means Human Resources Subcommittee, of which I serve as chairman. President Trump is urging Congress to focus on welfare reform after we finish our tax code overhaul, and I am eager to dive into this effort to help more Americans reach self-sufficiency.

In the fight against poverty, four main principles in House Republicans’ “A Better Way” plan serve as guideposts for the task ahead.

First, we must promote human dignity by expecting able-bodied recipients to work or prepare for work in exchange for benefits. Too many programs are focused on meeting immediate needs without providing recipients with the tools they need to succeed in the workforce. States should also be held accountable for helping recipients find jobs and stay employed.

Our second principle is getting incentives right so everyone benefits when someone moves into the workforce permanently. Recipients are too often incentivized to stay on welfare long-term rather than being rewarded for finding stable employment, and some providers also benefit as the number of recipients on their rolls grows. We need to change these incentives to unite around the end goal of helping more people enter and stay in the workforce.

Third, we must focus on results. The common measurements of success for welfare programs are inputs, such as the number of people enrolled and the amount of money spent. These surface-level statistics do not tell us whether these programs are making a positive difference. To be good stewards of taxpayer dollars and ensure we help rather than hurt people’s economic potential, we need to thoroughly evaluate programs and tie funding directly to real results.

For example, we have been working for the past few months on reauthorizing the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program, known as MIECHV. My bill to reauthorize MIECHV passed the House at the end of September. The voluntary program, which helps improve the lives of families in at-risk communities, works because its funding is contingent upon demonstrated evidence of effectiveness. This should be the standard rather than the exception.

Finally, we need to improve the integrity of our anti-poverty programs to make sure benefits are going to those who truly need them. Through advances in technology, we have innovative ways to protect against fraud and abuse. States and other providers should be encouraged to adopt these methods to more carefully track how benefits are distributed.

Our subcommittee has held multiple hearings this year on the challenges we face in helping people lift themselves out of poverty. The first hearing examined the geography of poverty, both urban and rural, and the importance of developing local solutions. Another hearing focused on the 5.5 million 16- to 24-year-olds in America who are not in school and are not working, and opportunities to break this cycle. Additionally, we delved into the decades-long decline of men participating in the labor force and how to help them once again experience the dignity of work.

These insights and principles will serve as the foundation for bringing hope and opportunity to those trying to better their lives. Meaningful reforms are needed to help more Americans achieve economic independence, and we are ready to move this important effort forward.


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