A Critical First Step

Eliminating poverty is a key element of the Conservative Reform Agenda that has guided my first term as your U.S. Senator. To that end, next week I will introduce the Welfare Reform and Upward Mobility Act.

Utahns understand better than most that hard work is the surest way to improve one’s lot in life. Decades of research and experience also confirm another Utah value: The stability and support engendered by marriage improves the economic outlook not only of adults but also their children.

Yet our welfare programs penalize marriage by reducing, and often eliminating altogether, a couple‚Äôs combined benefits after they get married. The system also punishes work. Recipients now face benefit “cliffs” as their incomes rise, either from finding a better job or getting a raise. In addition, only two of the more than 80 means-tested welfare programs require able bodied adults to work in order to receive aid.

Is it any wonder, then, that federal government spending on welfare programs has ballooned to nearly $1 trillion this year? And that says nothing of the human and social costs of our broken welfare system.
So welfare reform, properly understood, is as much a moral imperative as it is an economic necessity. Yes, we want a more affordable welfare system, but we also want inspired, self-reliant citizens, capable of leading productive and happy lives.

The Welfare Reform and Upward Mobility Act would seek to eliminate the marriage penalty, eliminate benefit “cliffs”, include work requirements for all food-stamp recipients and create work-activation programs to provide beneficiaries with vocational education, job training, community-service opportunities, job-search assistance, and other resources to promote self-sufficiency.

This bill is a critical first step. And like all future reforms, it will succeed by making poverty not tolerable, but temporary.

Mike Lee
U.S. Senate

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