Entitlements

A Big Step Toward Real Welfare Reform

Work requirements for welfare go a long way to lifting people out of the cycle of dependency.

Brian Mark Weber · Apr. 13, 2018

President Donald Trump signed an executive order this week entitled “Reducing Poverty in America by Promoting Opportunity and Economic Mobility,” and House Republicans unveiled the 2018 Agriculture and Nutrition Act, the $844 billion farm bill. Both items focus on getting people working and off of welfare. No wonder the statists are angry. As Investor’s Business Daily put it, “If increased dependence on the federal government is your goal, anything that moves in the opposite direction is a bad thing.”

Trump recently said, “I know people that work three jobs and they live next to somebody who doesn’t work at all. And the person who is not working at all and has no intention of working at all is making more money and doing better.” The president thereby expressed the sentiment of millions of Americans who are willing to take on an extra job to pay the bills rather than be on the public dole but are frustrated by those who benefit from another choice.

But haven’t we done this before? What about the welfare reform efforts of Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton in 1996?

Barack Obama effectively undid that good work by directing the Department of Health and Human Services to dismantle the work requirement for welfare recipients in 2012. Last year, President Trump ordered HHS to reinstate that work mandate.

But the president isn’t stopping there. The administration announced that states will be able to include work requirements for Medicaid and require SNAP recipients to work after three months of benefits. Additionally, tougher requirements for those receiving assistance under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program are being considered, as well as mandating weekly work hours for recipients of housing benefits.

Presidential domestic policy council director Andrew Bremberg says, “Part of President Trump’s effort to create a booming American economy includes moving Americans from welfare to work and supporting and encouraging others to support common-sense reforms that restore American prosperity and help them reclaim their independence.”

Helping people to reclaim their independence isn’t a novel idea, but it’s one that politicians reflexively push aside in favor of government programs that merely perpetuate a caste system in which people born into poverty have no way out.

And that’s the real difference in President Trump’s approach to welfare reform. While other presidents have talked about the need to address poverty, the Trump administration seems to realize that the only way to make a real difference in the lives of the poor is to create real jobs and implement pro-growth economic policies.

Naturally, critics of welfare reform or welfare-to-work policies claim that reducing government benefits, or suspending them altogether after a period of years, places a burden upon those unable to support themselves with a good job. Indeed, once millions of people receive regular assistance from the government, breaking the cycle of dependency creates a burden.

Yet the burden becomes greater when politicians force American jobs overseas, make it harder for small businesses to thrive, and leave some of the most vulnerable populations in our country, including blacks, more likely to fall into poverty.

To those asking whether welfare-to-work policies actually work, Republican Gov. Sam Brownback of Kansas implemented a program four years ago known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. The result was that the number of Kansans on welfare decreased by 17,000, and within two years those who were employed had more than doubled the amount of income they had been receiving on welfare.

For all the critics of welfare reform, the new approach doesn’t eliminate the government’s helping hand. Kristina Rasmussen, vice president of federal affairs at the Foundation for Government Accountability, stated, “By strengthening the work requirement for able-bodied adults on food stamps and approving states’ waivers for Medicaid work requirements, agencies can ensure that resources are preserved for the truly needy.”

And that’s what we’re really talking about here: helping those who really need it. Others who are able to work and earn a living should be encouraged to do so, but no one is suggesting that people unable to fend for themselves be neglected. The difference is that the Trump administration seems poised to take a serious look at free-market solutions to the problems government can’t solve.

While care should be taken to shore up the safety net, a healthy society and its government should encourage people to break free from dependency and become productive, self-sufficient citizens.

President Trump’s executive order is a serious first step in weakening the Left’s class-warfare rhetoric, empowering people to gain independence, and creating a society that’s great not because of government handouts but because of government getting out of the way.

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