Since he took office, President Trump has been clear in his message that unemployed adults capable of working should expect welfare changes designed to move them off welfare and into jobs.
“Millions lifted from welfare to work is not too much to expect,” President Trump told a joint session of Congress in February.
Early signals from the Trump administration are positive signs that it is moving forward with this commitment. That’s a good thing, because with more than 6 million open jobs in the country right now, employers desperately need adults to trade in their welfare applications for job applications.
President Trump’s proposed budget demonstrates his commitment to making this a reality by making changes to the way the food stamp program (officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is administered, closing bureaucratic loopholes that accelerated the growth in food stamp caseloads.
In addition, President Trump’s budget proposes reigning in the expansion of food stamps by eliminating waivers for work requirements.
Federal law requires childless, able-bodied adults to work, volunteer or train at least 20 hours per week to receive food stamps. But Obama-era bureaucrats mounted a campaign allowing states to request waivers to opt out of the work requirement.
While the Trump administration’s efforts to reinforce work requirements by stopping these waivers are commendable, reality persists. And the reality is that while Congress attempts to accomplish something and the budget sits on the sidelines, dependency is thriving in America.
Millions of able-bodied adults without children are still stuck on food stamps. And states continue to submit new waiver requests, ensuring those adults remain trapped on welfare.
It’s a sad fact, because when work requirements are in place, these adults don’t just go back to work – their incomes increase and their time on welfare is minimized. In Kansas and Maine, incomes more than doubled after work requirements for food stamps were restored.
Federal law says that waivers to the work requirement for food stamps can’t be granted unless there is a 10 percent unemployment rate or a real lack of jobs. But that’s not the case now. So why are these childless, able-bodied adults not working, even when businesses are desperate for workers?
As it turns out, states continue to ask the federal government to let them keep waiving the work requirement – and so far, the federal government keeps saying yes.
Take California, for example. Throughout 2017 California’s unemployment rate has been below 5 percent. Yet the state continues to ask the federal government for permission to let more than 600,000 able-bodied, childless adults receive food stamps without working.
Michigan has just a 4.3 percent unemployment rate, but still ignores the work requirement for all but four of its counties. One Michigan county that waives the work requirement has just a 2.7 percent unemployment rate – seven percentage points under the statutory threshold to waive work requirements.
And one county in Colorado that that has just 1.4 percent unemployment was given permission by the Obama administration to waive work requirements.
Across the country, there are more than 1,300 “work-free” counties, cities, and other areas where able-bodied adults, 18-49 years old, with no kids, get a completely free ride while on food stamps. There are no work requirements – no incentive for these people to pull themselves out of government dependency and create a better life, free from welfare.
Of these 1,300 areas, only 28 have unemployment rates above 10 percent – the level that Congress set when it enacted work requirements into federal law.
With unemployment below 10 percent and 6 million jobs open across the nation, there is no reason that waivers to the work requirement should continue to be granted.
And the Trump administration doesn’t have to continue the trend. These waivers have been abused because of overreaching regulations and aggressive action by the Obama administration.
The work requirement law gives the secretary of the Department of Agriculture the authority to reject these waivers and reinstate the work requirement across the country. The secretary should do just that, to fast-track the American comeback and help fulfill President Trump’s promise.
Sam Adolphsen is a senior fellow at the Foundation for Government Accountability.