Jun 10, 2002
BY CONGRESSMAN JOE WILSON, SC-02 “There is not enough accountability in column writing.” I couldn’t agree more with this statement, which was put forth by E.J. Dionne Jr., in his May 19th column “Welfare Correctness.” His column, which is indicative of the arguments espoused by many liberal Democrats opposed to true welfare reform, was wrought with clichés, contradictions, and shallow arguments unsupported by the facts surrounding the success of welfare reform. Since the historic welfare reforms first passed by the Republican Congress in 1996, welfare caseloads have been cut in half, child hunger has been nearly cut in half, the poverty rates for black children and single mothers are both at all-time lows, and the number of children living in two-parent families has increased. Yet, Mr. Dionne would like to ignore these facts and give all credit to the economic boom of the late 1990’s. While it would be naïve not to realize that a positive economy opens up doors of opportunity through new jobs, we know that it does not automatically ensure that people on welfare will seek those jobs. Under the pre-1996 welfare system, caseloads increased even during the prolonged economic expansions of the 60’s and 80’s. A report from the National Center for Policy Analysis (NCPA), an independent research organization found that the 1996 reforms accounted for more than half of the decline in welfare participation and 60 percent of the rise in single mother employment since 1996. Research conducted by the nonprofit Heritage Foundation revealed that the “relative vigor of state economies, as measured by employment rates, changes in unemployment, or state job growth, had no statistically significant effect on caseload decline.” The message here: the 1996 welfare reforms were an outstanding success promoted by dedicated professional social workers. Mr. Dionne also claims that welfare reform “created work requirements without doing enough to lift the needy out of poverty.” The truth is that when people on welfare take a job through the work requirements, they become eligible for a much greater array of help including the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), food stamps, child-care aid, and health insurance. These are all hugely important factors in ensuring that welfare recipients and their children stay above the poverty line, and these benefits only come through work. Turning toward the new legislation H.R. 4737, “The Personal Responsibility, Work, and Family Promotion Act,” passed by the House of Representatives over a week ago, Mr. Dionne says that the bill allows far too much flexibility for states through waivers. He states that “these waivers will give states too much leeway to cut the programs that helped welfare reform succeed.” Yet, just a few paragraphs earlier in his column, he writes it was flexibility that allowed states to create innovative welfare programs. Which is it? It stands to reason that if flexibility allowed states to create local programs that worked, more flexibility now would only give greater incentive to keep the programs. Then, citing no statistics or facts whatsoever, he accuses the new legislation of eroding food stamps, and not providing enough health coverage or child-care. Wrong on all three counts. The bill did not cut food stamps whatsoever, and there has even been a significant increase in the food stamp program through the farm bill. As for health care, the new welfare reform bill extends Medicare benefits another full year to those who fulfill the work requirements. Republicans also increased child-care funding by $1 billion, hardly a drop-in-the-bucket. Mr. Dionne did his worst by accusing Republicans of playing politics, being cruel toward single mothers, and refusing to spend money on the poor. How sad a claim, because the facts show the opposite. Republican-led welfare reform is the most compassionate way to help the neediest find the joy of self-sufficiency and leave poverty for good. The liberal Democrats wanted to keep the poor trapped in a broken system in 1996, and today instead of facing reality, they would rather hide behind baseless rhetoric and scare tactics. The American public is tired of these partisan politics. In his first column on welfare reform in 1996, Mr. Dionne wrote, “Perhaps now we can finally talk about the issues that mattered all along: how to reduce poverty, joblessness, illegitimacy, and crime.” All that can be said in response is that six years later, as liberals still clamor for more talk, Republicans have found and implemented the answers, and produced undeniable results. While they continue to bicker, we have moved ahead with new reforms that will lift more children and families out of poverty, and give new hope and independence to millions. ###