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Robert Rector    

SENIOR RESEARCH FELLOW, HERITAGE FOUNDATION

Robert Rector is a leading national authority on poverty, the U.S.welfare system and immigration and is a Heritage Foundation Senior Research Fellow.

Dubbed the "intellectual godfather" of welfare reform by National Review Editor Rich Lowry, Rector concentrates on a range of issues relating to welfare reform, family breakdown and America’s various social ills.

Rector played a major role in crafting the 1996 federal welfare reform legislation, which, for the first time, required recipients to work or get job training for their benefits. Since its passage, though, Rector has continued to conduct extensive research on the economic costs of welfare and its role in undermining families. In 2006, for example, when the original welfare reform law was up for renewal, Rector huddled with key Senate and House staffers to strengthen the law’s work requirements such as refusing to let states count bed rest as "work." And Rector pushed for a new provision: the Healthy Marriage Initiative. This aims to help keep welfare families intact – a critical factor in reducing poverty and the resulting government dependency as getting a job.

Rector’s impact on national policy includes the immigration debate as well. In May 2006, Rector discovered that a "comprehensive" Senate immigration reform bill would open the border floodgates, potentially admitting an unprecedented 103 million immigrants over the next 20 years. Such an influx would impose huge budget costs on this nation and fundamentally transform the United States socially, economically and politically. "Within two decades," Rector concluded, "the character of the nation would differ dramatically from what exists today."

Rector’s research hit Capitol Hill like a "perfectly timed statistical bomb," noted the San Francisco Chronicle. Bill sponsors immediately denied Rector’s claims. But Rector and Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., countered the nay-sayers by quoting chapter and verse from the bill in two packed news conferences on Capitol Hill. Rector went on to debate the legislation before more than 30 senators at the weekly Senate Steering Committee luncheon. And he took his message to the airwaves, making 27 radio and TV appearances in two weeks. Lou Dobbs, host of CNN’s "Lou Dobbs Tonight," cited Rector’s research for eight broadcasts in a row.

The intensity caught even the White House off-guard, forcing it and other supporters to reconsider their positions. "We are taking a look right now at the methodology of the Heritage study," White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters, "so I don’t want to get too deep into the details, but we’re taking a look at it." Eventually, Rector’s analysis prevailed. The bill’s sponsors changed the immigration cap to 60 million immigrants over 20 years. "For once," syndicated columnist Robert Novak wrote, "the Senate was moved by a think tank report."

Rector’s immigration research had a similar impact in 2007. His report with Domestic Policy Analyst Christine Kim, "The Fiscal Cost of Low-Skill Immigrants to the U.S. Taxpayer," found that households headed by immigrants who lack a high-school diploma received nearly three times as much in government services annually as they give back in taxes. That fact directly applied to a Senate "immigration reform" bill – but none of the bill’s supporters mentioned it before submitting it for a vote. "The proposed immigration reform bill in the Senate would increase the burden on taxpayers," Rector said. The bill eventually died.

Rector’s work on the 1996 welfare reforms earned him the Dr. W. Glenn and Rita Ricardo Campbell Award, given to the Heritage employee for "outstanding contributions to the analysis and promotion of a Free Society." He is the author of America's Failed $5.4 Trillion War on Poverty, a comprehensive examination of U.S. welfare programs, and co-editor of Steering the Elephant: How Washington Works.

Rector joined Heritage in 1984. He has previously worked as a Legislative Assistant in the Virginia House of Delegates and as a Management Analyst at the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. He has also served as a Commissioner on the congressionally mandated Millennial Housing Commission.

Rector holds a bachelor’s degree from the College of William and Mary and a master’s degree in political science from Johns Hopkins University.

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