Testimony to the Missouri Seniors, Families, and Children Committee on Welfare Reform

Published January 20, 2015

[Below is an excerpt of Heartland Government Relations Manager, Logan Pike, January 20, 2015 testimony before the Missouri House Committee on Seniors, Families and Children, in favor of reforming the state’s fragmented welfare system. For the full testimony, please click on the PDF link above.]

In May 2007, Ron Haskins, a senior fellow with the Brookings Institution and an author of the 1996 welfare reform legislation, reported “families with children whose income placed them in the bottom fifth of all families in the United States enjoyed a larger percentage increase in income from 1991 to 2005 than all other groups except the top fifth … because they worked longer and earned more money in 2005 than in 1991 – not because they received higher welfare payments. In fact, their earnings increased more in percentage terms than income of any of the other groups. These families not only increased their earnings, but also slashed their dependency on cash welfare. In 1991, more than 30 percent of their income was from cash welfare payments; by 2005, it was 4 percent.”[1]

In 2011, only 14.4 percent of welfare recipients in Missouri were working. This means fewer than four out of five TANF aid recipients did not have to work in return for their benefits. Workforce participation by recipients is an essential measure of anti-poverty success. If TANF recipients are not working, they are not acquiring skills and habits that will enable them to eventually leave the welfare program and become independent. A low workforce participation rate predicts a low rate of decline in the number of TANF recipients.

In 1996, the poverty rate in Missouri was 12.6 percent. Between 1996 and 2013, that poverty rate increased to 17 percent. While many factors affecting poverty rate are beyond the control of state governments, one thing is quite clear: The Missouri state government can play a major role in poverty reduction by adopting sound policies The Heartland Institute has defended in its reports.

[1] Ron Haskins, “The Rise of the Bottom Fifth: How to Build on the Gains of Welfare Reform,” The Washington Post, May 29, 2007.