Nearly 47 million Americans are on food stamps. Almost half of all Americans are classified as low-income or poor. Only 63.6 percent of able-bodied adults are in the labor force, the smallest share in more than a generation. And of those in the market to work, 23 million Americans still can't find a full-time job in this the worst economic recovery since the Great Depression.
This explosion of poverty and joblessness is taking a toll on taxpayers -- and America's credit card bill.
According to the most recent data from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service, 83 welfare programs cost taxpayers more than $1 trillion in 2011. This was the single-largest expense on the books -- more than Social Security, Medicare, and national defense.
Given that America borrows about 40 cents out of every dollar that means Washington borrowed more than $400 billion for welfare programs.
A welfare entitlement, by definition, is a program whose benefits are guaranteed. So long as the beneficiary meets the qualifications, the money is spent. There are no caps on many of these programs. So, when the economy is weak -- as it is now -- the federal government has to pay out to everyone who qualifies.
No doubt there are times when people hit rough times. But, temporary support programs and big-government stimulus plans are not supposed to serve as permanent benefits. Unfortunately, because of the sustained dismal state of our economy many people have to rely on these benefits longer than they would like.
With President Obama in the White House and Harry Reid in control of the Senate we have been limited in the past two years with our efforts to not only improve the economy, but also to fix these programs.
Nonetheless, I have introduced bills to target and transform two major welfare programs.
The first, the State Health Flexibility Act, will copy the successful welfare reforms of the 1990s that not only helped many families to get out of poverty, but also helped to control costs. This legislation will convert Medicaid to a block grant program and put our governors and state-level officials -- rather than Washington politicians and bureaucrats -- in charge of the health care benefits of our most needy people.
The second, the State Nutrition Assistance Flexibility Act, will combine six food stamp and nutrition programs into a single block grant to the states. Just like education and transportation, we cannot expect all states to have the same needs. What Kansans require is different from what Californians and Minnesotans need. Furthermore, like other reforms of the 1990s, a work requirement will be instated for able-bodied adults.
But in addition to impacting our coffers, the explosion of people living in poverty is taking a toll on our culture. So many people have lost hope. No one wants to rely on government to feed their families and heat their homes. No one wants to climb down the economic ladder. And, the fact that Washington annually borrows hundreds of billions of dollars to fund a growing welfare state (rather than fix the economy to reduce dependency) says the worst about America's culture: today's leaders care more about political gains now than the legacy left for the next generation.
The measure of our nation's success should not be judged by how much borrowed money the government can hand out. No, the measure of our nation's success is by how few people have to rely on the government for assistance and ultimately how many people move up -- not down the economic ladder. In the end, getting more people back to work is the best and most proven way to reduce poverty. By replacing welfare checks with a paycheck, we not only restore fiscal responsibility in Washington -- we also can restore pride and personal responsibility in the American people.