There’s never been a better time to move able-bodied Americans back to work than now, with 6 million open jobs nationwide.
Despite near-historical low unemployment rates and employers desperate to fill open jobs across the country, welfare enrollment is soaring. And overwhelmingly, the newest enrollees aren’t those the system was intended to serve — the elderly and those with disabilities, among others. Instead, they’re mainly able-bodied adults.
But now, things are changing. And they’re changing quickly.
Last week, President Trump signed an executive order on welfare reform, laying the groundwork for federal and state agencies to promote economic mobility and opportunity through work. Just two days later, the House Committee on Agriculture released a draft proposal of the 2018 Farm Bill, calling for an expansion of work requirements for able-bodied adults receiving food stamps and committing to initiatives that will reduce fraud and abuse across the food stamp program.
And in the states, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker signed key welfare-reform legislation into law last week, reaffirming the state’s commitment to move able-bodied adults from welfare to work and making policy changes that will restore the state’s welfare program to a safety net for the truly needy. One day later, Kentucky followed suit, with Gov. Matt Bevin signing a bill that will strengthen commonsense work requirements and reduce fraud among the state’s welfare programs.
The timing of these legislative and executive actions at both the state and federal levels isn’t coincidence. It’s a clear indication that policymakers are addressing the big problems facing their constituents and their states. And it’s an even bigger indication that finally, they’re giving their constituents what they want: welfare reform.
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Ahead of the Curve: MISSISSIPPI PEP 2013 CONSERVATIVE STATE OF THE STATE REPORT LISTED WELFARE REFORM AS TOP ISSUE STATE’S CONSERVATIVES WANTED ADDRESSED
A recent poll found 90 percent of voters support work requirements for able-bodied adults. And a poll conducted by Politico and Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health found 64 percent of Democrats and 77 percent of independents overwhelmingly support work requirements.9
It’s not difficult to believe, given that work requirements were initially laid out in the bipartisan welfare reform of 1996. Able-bodied adults were intended to work, train, or volunteer for at least 20 hours per week in order to be eligible for food stamps. But a series of loopholes and gimmicks created opportunities for states to waive these requirements, and welfare enrollment exploded.
There are now nearly 21 million able-bodied adults dependent on food stamps, more than three times as many as 2000. Nearly 28 million able-bodied adults are now dependent on Medicaid, up from 7 million in 2000.
This enrollment explosion has wreaked havoc on state budgets and on taxpayer spending. It’s threatened spending for education, public safety, and infrastructure, and has threatened limited resources for those who welfare was originally designed to help: the disabled, the elderly, and poor children.
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Mississippi PEP Resources: STATE WELFARE REFORM STUDY: 4-YEARS OF DATA FINDS DRASTIC IMPROVEMENT FROM KANSAS REFORMS
It’s why Kentucky fought to become the first state to win federal approval of the same commonsense work requirements for able-bodied adults on Medicaid, and why nearly a dozen other states are pushing for the same reform. It’s why state legislators are advocating for reforms that eliminate welfare fraud and check the assets of beneficiaries to ensure that food stamps aren’t going to millionaires.
It’s why Govs. Bevin and Walker signed welfare reform bills into law.
The recent executive order and the 2018 Farm Bill are the next steps. They have the power to move millions of Americans out of dependency and back to a life of self-sufficiency and dignity. There’s never been a better time to move able-bodied Americans back to work than now, with 6 million open jobs nationwide.
It’s about time our welfare system gets with the times.
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