War on Poverty Isn't Working

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

When it comes to fighting poverty, government has failed. Since 1964 when President Johnson declared a 'war on poverty' the federal government has spent $12 trillion, but the poverty rate in America has remained almost unchanged. But in the four years since Polis and Obama got to Washington, the number of Americans in poverty has grown by roughly 6.5 million to roughly 46.5 million Americans.

Ultimately, only solid economic growth can produce the shared prosperity we need to reduce poverty in America. But, the goal of government poverty programs should be to give Americans a hand-up, not a hand out, so they can provide for their families and seek out their own version of the American dream. Instead, the so-called war on poverty has failed generations of American families. Beneficiaries of poverty programs have grown dependent on the federal government. The system fails to transition able-bodied Americans in need of temporary assistance into successfully employed wage earners.

Today there are roughly 12.5 million unemployed Americans and millions more under-employed. There are 46 million Americans receiving food stamp support, an increase of 45% since January 2009. And since 2009 when President Obama took office the federal government has spent $193 billion more on welfare programs – a 40 percent increase.

I believe that government should provide a safety net, but I also believe cradle-to-grave government subsidies hurt the economy and actually encourage unemployment by disincentivizing work. The policies of Democrats in Washington are failing America's poor.

Big government can take many forms. Barack Obama and Jared Polis have endorsed this explosion in government spending. But even well-intentioned conservatives can fall into the trap of believing that government is the answer. Instead of a top-down, government-knows-best approach, I support a bottom-up approach, in which we grant as much freedom and liberty to American workers and families as possible.

Today there are 125 anti-poverty programs (excluding Medicaid) administered by seven different cabinet agencies and six independent agencies serving 106 million Americans. If we are going to successfully reduce duplication, lower costs and restructure these programs to transition people back into the workforce, we must develop a comprehensive approach.

I suggest an approach similar to that used by the Pentagon during the Base Realignment and Closure process to restructure the poverty assistance system in America. Congress would appoint a commission to conduct an independent, thorough, and non-partisan review of poverty programs in America. The commission would be directed to develop recommendations to:

  • Eliminate or consolidate duplicative and overlapping programs.
  • Eliminate programs where waste, fraud, or abuse are systemic.
  • Emphasize programs and processes that move recipients out of poverty (or incentivize them to take actions that will help them escape poverty), rather than simply subsidizing them.
  • Devolve decision-making, wherever possible, to the States.
    • If the conclusion is to block-grant a program, the block grant program must be sunset within five years. The sunset may be coupled with a reduction in taxation by an equal amount (if a state chooses to replace a program after sunset, it must be funded internally by that state).
    • Block grants should carry as few strings as possible.
  • Total spending on these programs should be cut by 10 percent in year one, and another 10 percent in year two. This should result in savings of over $800 billion over ten years.
  • The recommendations of the Commission must be voted on without amendment or filibuster by both houses of Congress.

Of course, any changes America's anti-poverty programs will only be successful if, at the same time, we change direction in Washington to free our private sector, bolstering economic growth and creating a better environment for businesses to create jobs.

Americans deserve better than what Washington is delivering and that's why I'm running for Congress.

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