I don't often agree with Speaker Gingrich, but this is a MUST!
-ADY "A Regular Guy On The Issues"
Requiring Paychecks for Food Stamps
June 19, 2013
To receive Newt’s weekly newsletter, click here.
Just before we passed welfare reform in 1996, many on the left promised dire consequences for millions of American families if the legislation were to become law. They said the requirement that people go back to work after two years of taxpayer support was draconian. The late Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan actually characterized it as “the most brutal act of social policy since Reconstruction.”
Of course, the predictions of a return to the era of Oliver Twist were wildly off base. The reform proved to be one of the most successful social policies in American history. Two-thirds of welfare recipients got a job or went to school. Within four years, 4.2 million people rose out of poverty. In five years, child poverty was at an all-time low, having dropped by 25 percent.
The work requirement was at the heart of the law, and was the key to achieving these gains. As Peter Ferrara records in his book America’s Ticking Bankruptcy Bomb, the states which opted for the strongest implementations of the work requirement saw their welfare rolls reduced dramatically: Wyoming by 97%, Idaho by 90%, Florida by 89%, Louisiana by 89%, Illinois by 89%, Georgia by 89%, North Carolina by 87%, Oklahoma by 85%, Wisconsin by 84%, Texas by 84%, Mississippi by 84%.
Literally millions of people moved from dependency to independence, from welfare checks to paychecks. The work requirement worked.
People on both sides of the aisle now recognize the success of the reform. Even President Obama, who opposed the law at the time it was passed, said as a candidate in 2008 that he “was much more concerned ten years ago, when President Clinton signed the bill, that this would have disastrous results…It worked better than a lot of people anticipated.”
The reform’s work requirement applied to one of the largest federal welfare programs (TANF), but today there are 184 means-tested federal programs.
One in particular, the food stamp program (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP), is now approaching a level of bloat comparable to that which prompted the original welfare reform in 1996.
Nearly 50 million Americans — 1 in 6 — are receiving food stamps. Apologists for this incredible number claim the rolls have swelled because of the recession, but the fact is, spending on SNAP doubled during the 7 years before the crisis, too. The program now costs more than four times what we spent on it in 2000, and the government regularly buys advertisements in an effort to enroll more people.
That explosion screams for the kind of bipartisan reform that was so successful in 1996.
SNAP formally includes a work requirement, but it is riddled with loopholes. For one thing, it doesn’t apply if you have a dependent child. For another, states can obtain waivers to exempt all their recipients from the requirement. Forty-four states and the District of Columbia currently have such waivers. In 2011, fully half of food stamp households were headed by people who were neither working nor even looking for work. Only 22% were employed.
We’ve seen watered down work requirements before. In 2005 the Government Accountability Office found some states had implemented TANF to categorize as “work” activities like “bed rest, short-term hospitalizations … physical rehabilitation, which could include massage, regulated exercise … personal journaling, motivational reading, exercise at home, smoking cessation, and weight loss promotion.”
When the requirements are that toothless, however, they don’t have the intended effect of nudging recipients out of dependency and into self-sufficiency. They no longer incentivize the changes that would make peoples’ lives better.
Representative Steve Southerland, who leads the Republican Study Committee’s anti-poverty initiative, will introduce an amendment to the Agriculture appropriations bill later this week that would move SNAP along the path we charted with welfare reform. His legislation would give states the option to implement strengthened work requirements for SNAP. Under this plan, states could ask SNAP recipients either to find employment or to do things like job training or studying to get a GED.
If states were successful at moving people from food stamps to work and independence, Rep. Southerland’s bill would give them 50% of the savings.
As a candidate for president in 2008, Mr. Obama told Pastor Rick Warren at Saddleback Church that “we have to have work as a centerpiece of any social policy, not only because ultimately people who work are going to get more income, but because [of] the intrinsic dignity of work, the sense of purpose … .”
Rep. Southerland’s SNAP legislation is a chance for President Obama and Democrats in the Congress to prove that they really believe it.