WASHINGTON, D.C. | June 8, 2016
“The answer to the welfare crisis is work, jobs, self-sufficiency, and family integrity; not a massive new extension of welfare.” Those aren’t the words of a southern, conservative Republican in 2016. Instead, those are the words of liberal, former New York Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in 1968.
Far too often when someone proposes strategies to combat poverty, they get labeled as cold-heartened or cruel. But that could not be further from the truth. Reforming our welfare programs and combatting poverty is actually about lifting people up and helping our friends and neighbors.
What is cruel is to continue the same poverty fighting strategies that have failed over the last fifty years. In 1966, the poverty rate was 14.7% percent. In 2014, after spending billions of dollars a year on a myriad of poverty programs, the poverty rate sat at 14.8%. We keep throwing more and more money at the problem but get the same results.
You see, for far too long we have treated poverty as a chronic disease that cannot be cured. We focus on ways to help people cope with poverty instead of guiding them toward a better life. In many ways, our country’s welfare programs disincentivize work and actually punish Americans who find work by immediately halting many of their benefits.
Given these challenges, I joined House Speaker Paul Ryan and some of my House colleagues in crafting a “Better Way” agenda that directly addresses poverty in the United States. This agenda attempts to get at the heart of what causes poverty and offers real policy solutions to make a difference.
My focus during the discussion was on education and helping Americans obtain the skills they need to obtain high-paying jobs they want. Education has always been the great equalizer, and it is one of the best tools we have to fight poverty.
Before coming to Congress, I was chancellor of Alabama’s two-year college system. In this role, I saw firsthand the remarkable success that can be achieved through our two-year colleges and technical schools.
There is probably no better example of how powerful job training programs are than looking at what we accomplished in our prison system. These are difficult students who face a range of challenges, but 100% of the inmates who completed our training program got a job. Even more, the recidivism rate was less than 3%. Skills training makes all the difference.
So that is at the heart of our plan: giving people the tools they need to live the lives they want to live instead of just giving them another government program.
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