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Welcome Back, Welfare

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One of the great policy triumphs of this era has been welfare reform. After decades of growth, the disastrous Aid to Families with Dependent Children program was scrapped in 1997 and states were finally given incentives to limit the number of people added to their welfare rolls. In addition, more stringent work requirements and time limits were put into place.

Why was this possible? Because there was widespread understanding that welfare had ceased to become a temporary aid to those truly in need and instead had become a way of life. Welfare’s perverse incentives did immeasurable damage to millions of Americans and by the late 1990’s there was broad bipartisan support for reforms that required more from recipients.

But this victory for common sense is in danger. The economic stimulus plan contains provisions that could undermine these hard-earned gains. Instead of providing a flat dollar amount and encouraging states to minimize the number of recipients, the federal government will pay 80 percent of cost for each new family added to the welfare rolls. In other words, for every dollar the state of Louisiana spends on welfare, the federal government will provide us with four more.

Gov. Jindal may be tempted by this invitation to profligacy. Undoubtedly, many governors will take the bait and expand welfare rolls. But how would this provide a long-term benefit to Louisiana?

Louisiana’s well documented “brain drain” will not be helped by expanding the welfare rolls. Nor will economic development. And those who might be eligible for welfare would be better off avoiding the trap of dependency.

Gov. Jindal can send a message about our state’s priorities by rejecting this opportunity to expand the number of government dependents in Louisiana. The focus must be on making this state a place of opportunity. Economic development and education reform will do more for everyone, including prospective welfare recipients, than handouts.

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