Reforming Welfare to Increase Independence & Strengthen Families
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President Bush will announce his welfare reform agenda to strengthen families and help more welfare recipients work toward independence and self-reliance. The Presidents agenda builds on the success of the historic 1996 welfare reform law:
Key Components of the Presidents Welfare Reform Agenda
- Helps more welfare recipients achieve independence through work.
- Protects children and strengthens families.
- Empowers states to seek new and innovative solutions to help welfare recipients achieve independence.
- Provides compassionate food assistance to legal immigrants in need.
Helping Welfare Recipients Achieve Independence Through Work
- Increasing Minimum Work Requirements. Under current law, at least 50% of welfare families are required to participate in work and other activities designed to help them achieve self-sufficiency. The Presidents plan closes loopholes and increases the work requirement by 5% per year until reaching 70% in FY 2007.
- Requiring Welfare Recipients to Put in a Full Work Week. The Presidents proposal builds on the successful work requirements of the 1996 welfare reform law by requiring welfare recipients to work 40 hours per week either at a job or in programs designed to help them achieve independence. The plan makes special accommodations for parents with infants and individuals who need substance abuse treatment, rehabilitation or special work-related training.
Protecting Children & Strengthening Families
- Protecting Children by Providing Historic Childcare Funding. The President proposes to continue historically high levels of support for childcare ($4.8 billion per year) through the Child Care and Development Block Grant.
- Strengthening Child Support Enforcement and Encouraging States to Give Child Support Payments To Mothers And Children. Under current law, government keeps a substantial portion of the money collected to pay past-due child support in cases of families that have received welfare. The Presidents proposal provides financial incentives for the states to give as much of this money as possible to mothers and children, especially mothers who have left welfare.
- Encouraging Healthy Marriages and Two-Parent Married Families as a Goal. The Presidents plan directs up to $300 million for programs that encourage healthy, stable marriages. These programs include pre-marital education and counseling, as well as research and technical assistance into promising approaches that work.
Encouraging Innovation by States to Help Welfare Recipients Achieve Independence
Allowing States to Better Coordinate Childcare and Other Non-Cash Work Support Services. States support the transition from welfare to work by providing families with a range of benefits and services including food stamps, childcare, income supplements and transportation assistance. Under the Presidents proposal, states would be given the flexibility to streamline and coordinate these support programs, which now operate under different agencies, different rules, and different reporting requirements.
- Establishing Broad New Waiver Authority to Encourage State Program Innovation. New waiver authority will be established to enable states to integrate a range of programs in order to improve their effectiveness. This new flexibility will help states design fully integrated assistance programs that could revolutionize service delivery.
Providing Assistance for Legal Immigrants in Need
- Ensuring Vulnerable Legal Immigrants Get Adequate Nutrition: The Presidents proposal will allow legal immigrants to receive food stamps five years after entry to the United States. This policy will help to ensure adequate nutrition among children and other vulnerable immigrant groups, while continuing to require new entrants to support themselves and their families through work.
The Presidents plan will continue the existing five-year ban on welfare benefits for non-citizens entering the country after 1996 ensuring that welfare policy neither attracts non-citizens to the U.S. to take advantage of welfare nor induces welfare dependency among non-citizens who do receive welfare benefits.
- Safeguarding Against Welfare Dependency Among Non-Citizens:
In 1996, a Republican Congress and a Democratic Administration came together to reach a historic, bipartisan agreement to reform the welfare system. This historic welfare reform has been one of the greatest public policy successes in decades:
- Since 1996, welfare dependency has plummeted. The number of individuals receiving cash assistance has dropped by 56 percent.
- Even in a recession, national welfare caseloads are not rising significantly. Instead, they have stabilized.
- Since the laws passage, more single mothers are employed than ever before.
- Child poverty rates are at their lowest level since 1978, and both African-American child poverty rates and poverty among children in female-headed families are at their lowest level in history.
- The rate of births to unwed mothers has leveled off.
Even with these notable successes, much remains to be done to improve the welfare system for those in need and to help welfare recipients on the path to self-reliance and independence.
As part of the 1996 reforms, Congress ended the welfare entitlement under the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program, and replaced it with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, a $16.6 billion per year block grant to states and territories. Under TANF, welfare recipients are required to work in exchange for time-limited benefits, and states enjoy significant flexibility in designing the eligibility criteria and benefit rules. Additionally, Congress provided bonuses to states for high performance and for reducing non-marital births.
President Bush proposes to build on the success of the bipartisan 1996 reform law by making welfare even more focused on the well-being of children and supportive of families. His plan will strengthen and improve the TANF program by maintaining the same overall funding level ($16.6 billion per year) and basic structure established under the 1996 welfare reform law while making improvements in several key areas to encourage welfare recipients to work toward independence.
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