A look at the GOP plan to make work a welfare requirement

By Dan Calabrese

No reasonable person could really disagree with the idea that a person receiving welfare should have to do some sort of work as part of the bargain. Of course, the political world is not really filled with reasonable people, which is probably why we’re only just now getting around to maybe doing it.

But a very serious proposal is bubbling up in the House that has President Trump’s general support, and while it might be far too sensible to gain the votes of Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski and John McCain in the Senate, it’s also far too sensible for us not to take a close look at.

The Wall Street Journal summarizes an eminently reasonable proposal that almost no one would oppose if they were given an honest accounting of how it actually works:

Enter the House’s first proposal: A 20 hours a week work requirement for able-bodied adults, ages 18 through 59. This usually elicits panic about child labor or single moms, but the requirement does not apply to seniors, children, the disabled, or anyone who cares for a child under six or is pregnant. That exemption covers roughly two-thirds of everyone on food stamps.

The folks subject to the work rule have many ways to satisfy the requirement, including apprenticeships that could contribute to higher earnings later. States will have to offer access to training programs, which can also count as work. The bill stipulates case management and other techniques to help people transition off assistance.

Food stamps already has a de minimis work rule for some participants, but states have applied for waivers and exemptions that have diluted it. Yet the results of real welfare work requirements in states have been encouraging, including former Governor Sam Brownback’s reform in Kansas. A Foundation for Government Accountability paper last year noted that Kansas tracked 6,000 families who moved off welfare and went to work in 600 different industries. Incomes on average more than doubled over a year.

The House proposal includes other good ideas, notably eliminating “broad-based categorical eligibility.” This is a notorious loophole that declares someone eligible for food stamps because he received a brochure on heating assistance or a number for a hot line. The bill retains cross-eligibility that allow the truly needy to qualify for multiple programs without redundant asset tests.

Some of you might be disappointed that only one-third of those receiving food stamps would actually have to work under the proposal. Others might be upset that things like job training would count toward the work requirement.

But there’s no reason to pick a fight over any of those details. Most who advocate work as part of the welfare agreement emphasize “able-bodied,” and that would generally be understood to exclude children and people too old to work. If conservatives want to start advocating that single female welfare recipients spend their welfare checks on day care, please leave me out of that development.

So it’s true, this requirement is not going to result in a massive gusher of productivity. But it doesn’t need to. All it needs to do is change incentives. If 15 million people who weren’t doing anything to improve themselves now spend 20 hours a week doing at least something that falls into that category, how much difference could that make – for the country, for the federal fisc and, of course, for the lives of those people?

The real question is why Democrats and the media would fight this, as you know they will. Do they not want desperate people to improve their lives? The long-held conservative suspicion is that Mitt Romney was right, and that Democrats want as many people as possible dependent on government largess because that means they will always vote for the party of government largess. Prosperity is the enemy of the Democratic Party, unless you seek prosperity through politics. Any other way to get it is greedy, selfish and wrong.

Which is perhaps why they’d prefer not to see food stamp recipients working. Keep that up and pretty soon they won’t need food stamps. And then they might realize they’re better off supporting themselves, which might lead them to consider voting Republican.

Dan writes Christian spiritual warfare novels and does all kinds of other weird things too. Follow all his activity by liking him on Facebook!