by Jeb Bush
We have spent trillions of dollars on the ‘War on Poverty,’ but there are now still more than 46 million Americans living in poverty. Economic mobility is also far too low. Today, over 40 percent of children growing up poor remain poor as adults. And a weakened economy has only made matters worse – 6.8 million more Americans are living in poverty today than when President Obama took office. The current broken system not only fails those on welfare, but it actually encourages fraud, misuse and abuse.
Reducing poverty and expanding opportunity require new policies rooted in conservative principles.
1. Give Control Back to the States
The current one-size-fits-all approach to welfare policy gives Washington, D.C. too much power and fails to meet the needs of impoverished families. The nation spends over $400 billion annually on dozens of low-income assistance programs. The result is a confusing system that penalizes work, hurts families and creates countless opportunities for graft and abuse.
My plan eliminates these bloated, outdated welfare programs and gives control back to the states. I will eliminate failing, ineffective programs including the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called food stamps), housing assistance programs and the nation’s cash welfare program (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, TANF). These programs may temporarily alleviate need, but they trap families in perpetual poverty.
In the place of these failed programs, states will be given Right to Rise Grants. These grants will allow states to meet the needs of poor families, in the way that makes most sense in each state. As governor of Florida, I saw first-hand how states could be the laboratories of democracy. I know that giving states more flexibility will open the door for transformative ideas to eliminate poverty and increase opportunity.
2. Promote Work
There is no better way to eliminate poverty than through earned success. A job provides money, as well as the work and life skills necessary to rise out of poverty. It also sets a positive example for children, increasing upward mobility in the next generation.
Current welfare programs actively discourage working-age people from getting a job, and President Obama’s policies have made matters worse. This has created an unfair system where Americans not receiving assistance work hard to make ends meet, but those receiving assistance are not encouraged to work their way toward independence.
Full-time employment is key to permanently exiting poverty. That is why Right to Rise Grants will include real work requirements and time limits for able-boded adults. But emphasizing work is only half the answer. We must make sure work pays for all Americans. Along with cutting taxes for low-and-middle-class families, my tax plan will double the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) for childless workers and expand the credit to younger workers.
3. Cut Waste and Abuse
Current welfare programs reward graft and waste. With more than $18 billion in improper payments in EITC, SNAP and housing assistance programs, there is no doubt that reforms are needed in their own right, and also to protect the budget.
My EITC expansion will be paired with commonsense reforms requiring the IRS to verify a tax filer’s income before they can receive the credit. We will leverage new technology and better record-keeping under the Right to Rise Grants to make sure recipients only receive the credit they deserve.
By replacing SNAP and housing assistance with Right to Rise Grants, states will have the authority and incentive to eliminate the fraud and abuse endemic in current programs. Taxpayer dollars are also wasted on expensive federal bureaucracies that administer these programs. By giving control back to states, we will eliminate the need for these Washington D.C. bureaucracies.
4. Strengthen Families
Marriage matters when it comes to reducing poverty and increasing opportunity. Children raised in married, intact families do better than children raised in single parent families on a whole host of measures, including graduation rates, criminal justice involvement and earnings as adults. But too often in discussions of poverty, this vital issue is left out of the discussion. It won’t be in my administration.
As president, I will join with other political leaders, educators and civic leaders to promote marriage as the most reliable route to family stability and resources. States will be encouraged to find ways to promote parenthood and successful marriages. To further that goal, my plan will promote skill development, family involvement and employment among young men so that they can be better fathers.
Finally, parents must take responsibility for their children’s well-being. That means single parents with custody of their children need financial support from the absent parent. In Florida, I led efforts to double child support collections in the state. As president, I will refocus the child support enforcement system on its core mission: the collection of child support payments.
The nation’s welfare programs are hopelessly broken. The programs fail to encourage work, hurt families and cost taxpayers billions of dollars in waste and abuse. We must do better. My empowerment agenda for the 21st century will end wasteful welfare programs, give power and money back to the states and empower recipients by focusing on work and families. We will create a safety net that protects hardworking Americans who fall on hard times, but no longer traps families in perpetual dependence. A safety net where work pays more than welfare, and power does not rest with Washington D.C.