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Welfare Reform is Compassionate and Kansas Policy Proves It


What's the fastest way out of poverty? It's not a government program.

Far too many able-bodied Americans are trapped in welfare programs that are keeping them from thriving. These adults, often without dependents, make up one of the fastest growing population contributing to the skyrocketing food stamp enrollment.

But new research released this week sheds light on how welfare reforms can help these folks escape dependence on the government and improve their economic circumstances.

The report from the Foundation for Government Accountability focused on Kansas food stamp enrollees, and showed that not only do welfare reforms work to move people out of poverty, but the quicker we help folks off of welfare, the more successful they become.

“The Kansas data clearly shows the best way to help able-bodied adults who are trapped in welfare is to get them back to work as quickly as possible.” – Jonathan Ingram, VP of Research for the Foundation for Government Accountability.

The FGA worked closely with the Kansas Department of Children and Families to gather the data on the reforms spearheaded by Gov. Sam Brownback in 2013.

“We are pleased to see the information shared turned into a meaningful report that demonstrates for Kansas and the rest of the nation that employment is the most effective path out of poverty.” – Secretary Phyllis Gilmore, Kansas DCF

All too often we hear about politicians expanding welfare as a way to help people, but this report is evidence that this misguided theory actually encourages those who can work to become buried deep in the government poverty trap.

"Too many Americans are trapped in failing welfare programs and the problem is getting worse. The number of people dependent on government has exploded in recent years, largely due to state and federal expansions."

The report, co-authored by Nic Horton, details Kansas’ shift toward reform, which, "bucked the welfare-expansion trend and implemented common-sense work requirements and time limits for able-bodied adults without dependents on food stamps." The governor and state legislators "launched the most comprehensive welfare tracking system of its kind to monitor the impact on individuals’ employment and earnings."

The results are really remarkable.

Before Kansas implemented the work requirements, only "one in five able-bodied adults on food stamps worked. Nearly 93 percent of them were in poverty, most in severe poverty." But only 2 percent of able-bodied, childless adults who work full-time remain in poverty; proving work is crucial to economic mobility and lifting people out of poverty.

From 93 percent in poverty to 2 percent!

The research also found that within three months of implementing work requirements, half of these able-bodied adults cycled completely off the food stamps program, and the number of able-bodied adults on food stamps in Kansas has dropped by an astounding 75 percent.

Nearly 60 percent of those leaving food stamps found employment within 12 months and their incomes rose by an average of 127 percent per year. That higher income more than offset the food stamps they lost, increasing economic activity and bringing in new resources for other state priorities. Better still, the average income among working able-bodied adults is now above the poverty line.

That's right, "their incomes rose by an average of 127 percent per year." Who wouldn't be excited about a 127 percent increase in income?

Kansas taxpayers have benefited as well. In fact, the state's reforms "have saved taxpayers tens of millions of dollars each year, preserving limited resources for truly needy Americans." That was supposed to be the entire point of government welfare systems to begin with; help those who are truly needy. These reforms have allowed Kansas to do that.

FGA researchers found that, "Instead of draining tens of millions of dollars out of the economy, these able- bodied adults are now adding to the local economy. They are also generating new resources that can be devoted to other state priorities, including education, public safety, and protecting the most vulnerable."

As much as $89 million of new economic activity can be traced to these welfare reforms.

But there’s also more good news! For those still receiving some benefits, "more work has also translated to higher incomes. Just before work requirements were restored in 2013, the average income among able-bodied adult enrollees was just $1,867 per year. But since work requirements returned, average income among these childless adults has more than doubled, reaching $4,347 per year by the first quarter of 2015."

The Kansas example shows how common sense welfare reforms can help those dependent upon government services lift themselves out of poverty, become productive members of society and save resources for the truly needy.

Yes, this a Kansas success story, but hopefully it’s one that we’ll be telling over and over as more governors and state legislators have the courage to lead with real compassion and common sense.

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