Economy, Regs, & Taxes

What Welfare Work Requirements Accomplish

Beginning in January, 22 states began reducing food stamp rolls.

Robin Smith · Aug. 8, 2016

Working as a cashier as a teen in Appalachia, J.D. Vance, author of “Hillbilly Elegy,” took the sense that God gave him and reasoned his way into what’s shaping this election cycle into the working man and woman’s election.

Recalling his small paycheck that had state and federal taxes withheld, he watched his “drug-addict neighbor” regularly buying “T-bone steaks, which I was too poor to buy for myself but was forced by Uncle Sam to buy for someone else.” He also saw customers “speaking on their cell phones” as they checked out their “purchases” and pondered how “those living off of government largess enjoyed trinkets that I only dreamed about.”

No, not all who use government assistance for food fall into this type of entitled behavior, but our frame of reference is often created by the great number permitted to do so through failed policy.

There are two major welfare programs offering assistance for food and nutrition: SNAP is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as the Food Stamp Program, for low-income individuals, and WIC is a program only for Women, Infants and Children. Both of these administer benefits through a debit-like card that permits purchases and, yes, even cash back (as long as the cardholder has adequate funds in their account for the month), from an account made available by taxpayers.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, in some states like California and New York, there are no prohibitions against using food stamp funds to purchase alcohol, tobacco or lottery tickets. While this program, funded by the Department of Agriculture, certainly serves many who are legitimately in need, this means-tested entitlement program is also rife with exploitation and fraud by those who are able-bodied adults who need a job, not taxpayer-funded welfare.

On Feb. 17, 2009, Barack Obama signed into law his much ballyhooed “stimulus package,” which included the suspension of the work requirements for “able bodied adults without dependents.” Formerly, states could impose limits of SNAP benefits to able-bodied adults 18 to 49 years of age without dependents — three months of benefits within a 36-month period unless they worked at least part time, participated in a work program, or performed community service. Of course, this demographic of Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents got their own acronym, too — ABAWDs.

Obama’s work requirement suspension for food stamps began on April 1, 2009. But on Jan. 1 of this year, 22 states reinstated their work requirements for the ABAWDs for SNAP.

So what has happened as this tangle of acronyms impacts real life?

Food stamp enrollment that had reached historic levels has declined by the greatest number since 2005. In just one month, from March to April, 773,134 food stamp recipients ended their participation in the welfare program.

While states have taken the lead in addressing budget-busting entitlement spending, Kansas and Maine have excelled in making structured, policy-driven efforts. The Foundation for Government Accountability gave high praise to Kansas' program offering specific citations:

“With no welfare work requirement or time limit, just one in five able-bodied adults on food stamps worked. Nearly 93 percent of them were in poverty, most in severe poverty.

"Since implementing work requirements and time limits, the number of able-bodied adults on food stamps has dropped by 75 percent. These reforms immediately freed nearly 13,000 Kansans from welfare on December 31, 2013. Nearly 60 percent of those leaving food stamps found employment within 12 months and their incomes rose by an average of 127 percent per year.”

Maine, whose First Lady Ann LePage got a summer job waitressing to supplement her husband’s gubernatorial salary of $70,000 annually, seemed to lay down the logic that if you’re able-bodied, then get off the taxpayer-dole.

Prior to Maine’s Jan. 1 work requirements for ABAWDs, there were 12,000 food stamp recipients. By March 24, that number had dwindled to 2,680 Mainers when the reinstatement of the minimum of 20 hours work per week or work-training/community service.

Not only does stupid policy permit stupid activity for the able-bodied, it takes away the value of an intact family.

In a recently published study by the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), the conclusion was no surprise to any with synapses that fire, gray matter and a functioning cerebral cortex: “Due to the design of income thresholds that determine eligibility for these programs, many forms of aid end up penalizing marriage for some American families.”

Christian philosopher and historian Rousas Rushdoony correctly observed, “The family is the world’s greatest welfare agency, and the most successful. What the federal government has done in welfare is small and trifling compared to what the families of America do daily, caring for their own, relieving family distresses, providing medical care and education for one another, and so on. No civil government could begin to finance what the families underwrite daily. The family’s welfare program, for all its failures from time to time, is proportionately the world’s most successful operation by an incomparable margin.”

Yet, in May of this year, our government still had 43,478,196 individuals receiving SNAP, or food stamps. More than four in 10 families in America receive some kind of means-tested government assistance, from Medicaid to food stamps, according to the AEI analysis.

The moral to the story is quite simple: There is worth in work. Government interference, however, in its progressive, socialist policies to provide false philanthropy and create equal mediocrity, not equality, robs an individual of that personal attainment and turns them and their dependents into wards of the state.

Working Americans are making their frustrated voices heard: It’s time for government to get out of the way and out of their paychecks with the priority on those who work and produce. ABAWDs best get a J.O.B.

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