Reforming Welfare by Restoring Federalism

As the economy begins to take off as a result of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, the next big thing we’re going to see is a need for workers.

Since 2000, the food stamp program has skyrocketed from 17 million people to over 46 million people. The Affordable Care Act has caused monthly Medicaid enrollment to grow by a third – 77 million people. Every year, we spend $1 trillion on over 90 programs in which over half of non-disabled adult enrollees don’t work at all. These numbers can be attributed to Obama’s decision to remove work requirements for welfare programs. This blind focus on boosting enrollment has trapped Americans in the vicious downward spiral of government dependence.

This administration has taken a simple, but powerful approach to the situation – allowing reform to take root at the state level. In other words, allowing a revival of the Tenth Amendment that has been enshrined in the Constitution for centuries. By approving a waiver requested by Kentucky, the administration makes them the first state to have authority to apply eligibility rules for national welfare programs like Medicaid. Kentucky is using its Tenth Amendment authority to determine its own policies for welfare, by requiring Medicaid recipients to log 80 hours of ‘community engagement’ per month and contribute monthly premiums based on income levels. Community engagement includes having a job, job training, going to school, addiction treatment, English as a second language (ESL), taking-care of a family member, and community service.

There are currently nine other states, including Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Kansas, Maine, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Utah, and Wisconsin that are awaiting responses from similar waiver requests to implement work requirements for their welfare recipients. Experimental work requirements in Kansas, Maine and Wisconsin have all seen positive results within their respective state programs. Tennessee plans to reinstate work requirements in most counties for their TennCare program this year. Lawmakers in Pennsylvania have introduced HB 1659 to restore work requirements for food stamp eligibility.

Speaker Paul Ryan has expressed support for work requirements at the national level for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients. Rep. Garret Graves (R-La.) has introduced the SNAP Reform Act that would implement work requirements for non-dependent able-bodied adults in order to receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This could affect the upcoming U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Farm Bill considering SNAP funding oddly comprises 80% of the “Farm” Bill’s appropriations. Many rightfully believe that SNAP should be separated from the USDA because they are unrelated therefore compromising votes and promoting big government “logrolling”.

Democrats forget the success of the bipartisan welfare reform of 1996 – The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act. The bill’s inclusion of work requirements shrunk enrollment by 60 percent, increased income by 25 percent and child poverty rates dropped to the lowest rate in U.S. history! Implementing policies that promote upward mobility will ensure that our welfare system won’t be taken advantage of. Most Americans, including eight in ten low-income earners, believe that working should be required in order to receive welfare benefits. The Medicare and Medicaid Services Administrator, Seema Verma, agrees that Medicaid’s true purpose is to help people rise out of property and government dependence stating, “We will approve proposals that promote community engagement activities.”

It’s no question that our welfare system needs to be revitalized and modernized. Our policies are sedating Americans by discouraging work and learning. It’s a shame that the United Kingdom and Scandinavian countries with less of a free market tradition like Denmark and Sweden have welfare systems that are more pro-work than ours.

Giving states the freedom to require programs to connect the unemployed with job placement and training opportunities means more able-bodied people can go back to work. After all, studies conclude that prolonged dependence on welfare reduces a child’s future earnings and increases the probability that a child will drop out of school and be on welfare as an adult.

On top of improving the overall well-being of Americans, work requirements will allow welfare programs to regain sustainability and avoid waste, fraud and abuse. Food programs have ballooned from $20 billion a year $83 billion20% of which is spent on junk food!. Medicaid is shortchanging hospitals and doctors hiking commercial health premiums for privately ensured patients. Implementing a nationwide work requirement just within the food stamp program would save taxpayers nearly $10 billion every year.

We are in a unique position to improve American lives, revitalize Federalism and the Tenth Amendment, and rein in wasteful spending.