By Jeb Bush
My fundamental belief is that every American has the God-given ability to achieve earned success and rise up the income ladder, as long as there is an environment that gives them the opportunity to do so. The problem is that for too long, a dysfunctional Washington has imposed rules and regulations that create additional barriers for people.
To fix it, I am offering the most dramatic reform agenda of any campaign. Part of that means transforming the welfare system so that the dignity of work is given far greater value.
Too many of our safety net programs are based on the mistaken belief that simply writing bigger checks will increase opportunity and upward mobility. Some of these programs actively discourage working-age people from getting a job, and Obama's policies have only made matters worse.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), previously called Food Stamps, grew by nearly 30 million recipients from 2000 to 2014. The number of non-elderly, able-bodied adults who receive SNAP went from 3.1 million in 2000 to 11.3 million in 2013. This is, in part, a product of weakened work requirements. Under the law, able-bodied adults without dependents are required to work fulltime, but in the age of Obama, most states have waivers from this requirement.
Many low-income families are also eligible for federal housing assistance. With few exceptions, though, this assistance has no employment requirements at all. As a consequence, only half of working age, able-bodied adults who receive housing assistance earn the majority of their income through work.
This isn't the way to alleviate poverty. Reducing poverty and expanding opportunity requires new policies rooted in conservative principles. That means fixing the nation's economy first and foremost, but it also means reforming welfare programs to actively encourage people who can work to get a job.
Under my tax plan, a family of four earning under $40,000 would owe no income taxes. I would also expand the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), an effective anti-poverty tool that encourages low-income Americans to enter the work force.
Our safety net programs should also have real, enforceable work requirements for able-bodied adults.
Charlotte, NC began imposing work requirements in some public housing developments in 2014. Early evidence finds that the requirements successfully raised employment rates.
The best example we have of the success of work requirements was the welfare reform led by Congressional Republicans in the 1990s. Policymakers replaced the permanent cash welfare program with a program based on the idea that work was the best way to permanently rise out of poverty, called Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF).
At the time, many on the far left claimed that the TANF would hurt recipients. They were wrong. Employment levels increased and child poverty rates fell dramatically following the enactment of TANF.
Nearly two decades later, there is more work to do. In 2012, the official work participation rate for TANF recipients was only 34.4 percent. Twenty-three states failed to meet their work participation rate standards. Many states that technically meet the standards do so without actually improving workforce participation.
In the coming weeks, I will release a detailed plan to empower welfare recipients. States will have more flexibility to target assistance and better help those in need. As part of this reform, work requirements will be strengthened to ensure federal tax dollars are used to help people rise out of poverty, not trap them in it.