By Rep. Diane Black
The annual budget process in Washington is a critical opportunity for both parties to offer solutions to the most pressing challenges facing our nation: record poverty rates, high unemployment and a shrinking middle class. Unfortunately, the president's budget - much like the Senate's budget - doubles down on failed policies that limit opportunities for advancement and trap millions of Americans in a life of poverty and dependency.
In addition to weak economic growth and a looming debt crisis, fiscally bankrupt and ineffective welfare programs are a fundamental threat to every American who aspires to make it to the middle class. Despite record-level spending increases over the last five to 10 years, poverty rates are the highest in a generation with one in six Americans living in poverty.
Means-tested welfare benefits -- totaling nearly $1 trillion in annual government expenditures at the federal, state and local levels, are the fastest growing part of the budget, outpacing Social Security, Medicare, public education, and national defense.
The reason for this is primarily two-fold 1) A severe economic downturn exacerbated by President Obama's failed economic policies 2) The structure of these programs is fundamentally flawed with misplaced incentives that encourage inefficiency, dependency, and fraud. Ultimately, the budgetary costs pale in comparison to the human cost of trapping people in a life of poverty and unrealized dreams.
The president's budget not only fails to offer any fundamental, structural reforms to America's anti-poverty and welfare programs, it also in many cases increases funding levels for broken programs that have failed miserably to elevate poverty despite a decade or more of increased spending levels.
In contrast, the House Republican budget expands upon the bipartisan reforms that helped reduce poverty nationwide in the mid‐1990s to programs such as Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program also known as food stamps.
Today, Medicaid has many of the same fundamental flaws that cash welfare had before it was reformed in 1996. The federal government financially matches what the states spend on Medicaid, which gives them a perverse incentive to spend as much money as possible. The president's budget does nothing to address this structural flaw and continues to expand Medicaid's rolls which would further drive up deficits and accelerate its fiscal collapse.
The House Republican budget strengthens Medicaid by giving states the flexibility and resources to tailor a Medicaid program that meets the unique needs of their population. This one-size fits all federal mandate limits innovation and efficiency and forces states to cut payments to medical providers limiting access and reducing quality.
More than 16 million Americans have been added to the food stamps rolls since President Obama was first elected -- a 46 percent increase and more than double the population of Tennessee. But food stamp participation has grown in good times and bad, quadrupling over the last decade, due to the open‐ended structure of the program. States receive more money if they enroll more people - encouraging waste, fraud, and abuse.
The House Republican budget fixes the flawed incentive structure by putting limits open‐ended federal subsidies, establishing work requirements, giving states the flexibility to develop innovative approaches to delivering aid and encouraging states to help recipients find work. The best welfare program is one that leads to a job.
Maintaining or accelerating the status quo as the president has proposed in his budget will hurt low and middle income Americans worst of all. The president needs to stop ignoring this inescapable truth: despite record levels of government spending on anti-poverty programs, we have the highest poverty rates in over a generation. The effectiveness of our welfare and anti-poverty programs should not be measured by how much money government spends to aid the poor, but rather on the number of people who are able to escape poverty, become self-sufficient and discover the human dignity and fulfillment that comes from being able to provide for your family and contribute your God given talents to society.
The House Republican budget's answer to record poverty and high unemployment is pro-growth tax reform, private sector investment, effective welfare programs that lead to a job and independence, stronger education and work force development and a balanced budget. The president's budget sadly offers more of the same failed policies that have produced high joblessness and a shrinking middle class. I believe the America people deserve better than the status quo.