Senior Research Fellow on Domestic Policy at the Heritage Foundation Robert Rector said at the September 22, 2009 Conservative Bloggers Briefing that while some blame military expenses for bankrupting the United States, 2.5 times more money has been spent on the “war on poverty” than has been spent on the military in all of United States history. Rector went on to explain that Americans spend about $800 billion a year on the war on poverty; if there are 40 million poor in America, this means we spend about $20,000 per person with low income. So why are so many people still poor, when they are receiving so much money in government subsidies and services every year?
One point Rector was quick to make was that the American definition and measurement of poverty is lacking. Americans are “poor” if they make less than $22,000 in a year—and no one ever factors in how much the “poor” make when government welfare is thrown in the mix. This is why, Rector explained, the government could triple welfare payments and the number of American “poor” would not decrease, simply because of how the government measures poverty.
Rector noted that President Barack Obama has already spent more on welfare than Bush spent on the entire war in Iraq. Not only that, Rector went on, but Obama also has no plans of reducing spending once the recession has passed. Currently, Rector said, we spend two times as much on welfare as was spent during the Carter administration, and one seventh of all federal spending goes to off-the-record assistance to “low-income” families. “We are mortgaging the future,” Rector said.
Next, Rector discussed his own personal work in the area of welfare reform. “This is my life’s work,” he said, pointing to a blip on a chart that showed welfare spending going up and up. His blip signified a moment in history when welfare spending paused momentarily, before beginning its climb once again. Rector explained that he was only able to help reform one welfare program out of seventy, which added up to about two or three percent of total welfare spending. He helped reform the program Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) by adding work requirements; the new program was renamed “Temporary Aid to Needy Families” (TANF). He noted that once families previously covered by AFDC were required under TANF’s new rules to work in order to receive benefits, enrollment in the program—and therefore program spending—declined remarkably.
Rector concluded his presentation by explaining the most effective thing Americans can do right now to stem government welfare spending is to fix immigration. Right now, Rector explained, our immigration systems mean we are importing welfare cases, both legal and illegal. By stemming illegal immigration and basing legal immigration on merit rather than kinship, Americans could drastically reduce welfare costs. And to Rector, as well as taxpayers everywhere, cutting down on the billions spent on welfare every year sounds like a very good idea.