By just about any definition, the 5-year-old Welfare Reform Act has been a success. After the federal reform was implemented, welfare caseloads in Missouri declined by an amazing 53 percent as former welfare recipients found jobs and entered the workforce.
But now a coalition of social services agencies is lobbying the feds to reform the reform by extending welfare benefits beyond the 5-year period for the most needy. Though compassionate by design, the proposal to extend benefits appears ill-founded and a wrong approach to breaking the generational cycle of welfare dependency.
Welfare recipients were given a five year window starting in 1997 to find work or lose all welfare benefits. That means that next summer the remaining welfare recipients on the program originally will be cut from the welfare roles. That translates to nearly 2,000 families in St. Louis where 80 percent of the state's hardcore welfare families live.
This newly-formed coalition wants to extend the benefit period and improve education, health insurance, child care and food stamp benefits for these families. They also want to create community jobs programs for those unable to find employment.
The coalition says the Welfare Reform Act has met with mixed results. Well I for one don't think a 53 percent drop in welfare benefits is mixed results. It's a raving success that has reduced the burden on taxpayers and put thousands back into the workforce.
It would be hard to calculate the number of programs available for the low income in this great nation of ours. From housing assistance to free health care, the low income have abundant safety nets available through the federal, state and local governments. Combine that with private sector assistance that is available and you have a great number of resources.
What we have to understand is that some people choose to be unemployed and receive government assistance. It may provide only a limited lifestyle but some are simply not interested in taking the jobs available. If allowed to continue, this segment of the population will grow and grow and grow.
Welfare was never designed as anything more than a safety net. Through the years it became much more for many families. It's time to reduce the dependency and assure that all people have the opportunity to work and provide for their families and society in general. The reform has worked thus far and there's no reason to change the rules at this point.