There is a misconception among some in Washington that the success of our poverty-assistance programs should be measured by how much we spend on them and how many people receive benefits.
This faulty metric has created a system in which states are encouraged to swell the rolls for the federal assistance programs they administer. The result has been disastrous as programs expand out of control and more and more Americans become reliant on the government.
Consider the case of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — commonly known as food stamps — which saw its budget more than quadruple from 2000 to 2011. Today one in seven Americans receive benefits.
While some point to the economic downturn as the cause, half of recipients are above the poverty line and one in five food stamp households bring in incomes that double the poverty line.
In reality, the program has exploded in budget and participation because of erosion in eligibility requirements. Through a system known as “categorical eligibility,” individuals who receive any service under a welfare program — even something as small as a welfare brochure — can be deemed eligible for food stamps. A full 50 percent of all program participants today enroll in this manner.
We must come together to make the food stamp program more accountable, efficient and effective so that valuable resources can be saved for those who most need them.
In June, the House approved a measure that I backed along with Reps. Steve Southerland, Lynn Westmoreland, Kerry Bentivolio and David Schweikert that would allow states to implement a work requirement for the program.
In participating states, able-bodied beneficiaries would be required to spend 30 hours of each week in work activities such as working, looking for work or getting job training. Those with small children would be asked to conduct 20 hours of such activities each week.
This proposal builds on the bipartisan welfare reforms enacted in 1996 that helped bring 4.2 million Americans out of poverty and saw welfare cases drop by more than 60 percent nationwide and 85 percent in Georgia alone.
Even with millions of Americans struggling to find full-time work today, the number of children in female-headed households living in poverty today is lower than before welfare reform was signed into law.
In 1996, we found success by empowering the American people and harnessing the American spirit of independence. We can do the same today and help millions of Americans reach self-sufficiency.
Implementing these reforms would achieve the true measure of success for poverty assistance — not how much we spend but in how many Americans we help lift out of poverty.
Kingston, R-Ga., serves the states 1st Congressional District, which includes Liberty and Long counties.