Although the U.S. welfare state was enacted with the intention of helping the least fortunate, its perverse incentive structure often traps families in poverty and drains state budgets. America’s welfare state has exploded in the past decade, and the number of able-bodied adults on food stamps and Medicaid has doubled, but beginning in 2015 the Florida-based Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) designed and advocated new welfare reform policy that has achieved reform in 22 states. The FGA’s Restore the Working Class project has been named one of six finalists for this year’s prestigious $100,000 Templeton Freedom Award, which will be awarded at Freedom Dinner 2016, for helping transition 2.7 million people off welfare.
The FGA’s Restore the Working Class project “will improve the United States’ level of economic freedom in several ways,” said Chad Goote, vice president of advancement for the FGA. “These reforms, which have been enacted in 22 states, will save taxpayers up to $56 billion over the next decade, once fully implemented. For comparison, the last major welfare reform enacted by Congress — the 2014 Farm Bill — saved taxpayers $9 billion over a decade. By reducing the cost of welfare on taxpayers, [this] will improve the United States’ ranking on government spending factors in economic freedom rankings.”
Quantifying welfare reform impact
The FGA’s work recognizes that good policy isn't about handouts, it’s about a hand up. When job opportunities replace state subsidized complacency, incomes rise and real meaning returns to the lives of millions. To help demonstrate the effectiveness of welfare reforms, the FGA worked for 12 months with Gov. Sam Brownback after the 2013 welfare reform in Kansas, to conduct the most comprehensive welfare tracking study of its kind, matching more than 41,000 former welfare recipients with Department of Labor employment records. The study quantifies the positive impact of welfare reform — tripling work rates, doubling incomes, and pulling adults out of poverty within 12 months.
“This study turned conventional wisdom on its head,” Goote said. “Many academics and politicians believed that welfare punished hard work by taking benefits away as work and income increased. But those solutions always lead to an expanded welfare state. With the Kansas study, FGA showed that welfare was so pernicious because it paid people not to work, so only one in five did, and the best way to get someone out of poverty was to enact strong work requirements and time limits on welfare. When individuals were freed from welfare, three in five went to work in the first year, average incomes increased 127 percent, and the average income was now above the poverty limit. Rather than reforms that make the welfare state more efficient, the FGA’s research showed that reforms that reduce the number of people on welfare are the best for getting families back to work and out of poverty ASAP.”
The study helped provide not only broad statistical data about the success of work requirements, but also highlighted the power of individual stories, like a man who “languished on food stamps for almost five years” without an income before Kansas passed its welfare reforms. He began working shortly after being moved off the food stamp program, and today earns a $45,000 annual salary.
“Americans are understandably frustrated by the growth of welfare spending and they continue to see the negative effects long-term government dependence has both on a fiscal and moral level,” said Tarren Bragdon, CEO of the FGA. “They’re looking for proven solutions to help lift their neighbors out of poverty and reduce the cost of government; the Kansas model provides both. At FGA we’re focused on passing these crucial reforms, and the media plays a critical role in highlighting not only the challenges facing state welfare programs, but more importantly, the solutions. We continue to hear positive feedback from leaders in the states, many of whom have read about our work through our contributions at outlets such as the Hill, Forbes, TheBlaze, and many others.”
Building a nationwide coalition
The FGA began its nationwide track record of success in 2014, when its Uncover ObamaCare initiative resulted in 24 states saying no to the Medicaid expansion, keeping 9.4 million Americans from becoming dependent on government and saving taxpayers almost $500 billion over the following decade. Uncover ObamaCare was part of the FGA’s campaign to limit Medicaid expansion, which was one of the finalists for Atlas Network’s 2014 Templeton Freedom Award. After developing this successful model of state-based policy action around one key issue, the FGA began its focus on welfare reform throughout the United States.
“States are the best opportunity to rein in our runaway welfare programs,” Goote said. “State action also builds momentum for federal reform. Without a nationwide transformation in the states, there is no compelling proof that it is worth the political lift and, therefore, no appetite or courage in Washington for entitlement reform. This is where the FGA leads and excels. FGA has built a very different model of state-based policy action focusing primarily on this key issue. FGA has proven that it is possible to acquire the necessary resources and deploy an effective nationwide strategy to roll back welfare and effectively rebuild the working class.”
The importance of the FGA in this effort is evident. Welfare reform did not happen nationwide in 2014 because policymakers were unaware of its importance, and did not have the necessary tools and support. After the FGA began its initiative, 22 states passed welfare reform all in the same year — beginning a national movement of welfare reform that will continue. The FGA is building on this tremendous success in 2016, taking the lessons it has learned and the demonstrably successful results to Washington, D.C., in order to build the case for further state and federal welfare reforms both this year and the next.
The FGA was named as one of eight finalists for Atlas Network’s 2014 Templeton Freedom Award, for its Uncover ObamaCare initiative, recruiting, educating and supporting state leaders and activists with the courage and commitment to defeat the costly Medicare expansion and other dangerous provisions of the law in their own states.
About the Templeton Freedom Award and the additional 2016 finalists
Awarded since 2004, the Templeton Freedom Award is named for the late investor and philanthropist Sir John Templeton. The award annually honors his legacy by identifying and recognizing the most exceptional and innovative contributions to the understanding of free enterprise, and the public policies that encourage prosperity, innovation, and human fulfillment via free competition. The award is generously supported by Templeton Religion Trust and will be presented during Atlas Network’s Freedom Dinner on Nov. 10 in New York City at the historic Capitale. The winning organization will receive a $100,000 prize, and five additional finalists will receive $25,000 prizes. In addition to the FGA, other nominees for the 2016 Templeton Freedom Award include:
- Centre for Justice, based in Stockholm, Sweden, for its Litigating for Liberty project
- FIRE (Foundation for Individual Rights in Education), based in Philadelphia, Penn., for its Legislative and Policy Project
- Goldwater Institute, based in Phoenix, Ariz., for its Right to Try Initiative
- Israel Center for Social and Economic Progress, based in Mevaseret Zion, for its economic reform campaign
- Lithuanian Free Market Institute, based in Vilnius, Lithuania, for its Economics in 31 Hours textbook