From President Trump’s first full month in office through this May, over 2.8 million Americans stopped receiving food stamp benefits. We can likely credit the decline to better employment options and a concerted effort to move more able-bodied Americans from government aid to independence.
According to new data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which administers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), 42.1 million individuals and 20.8 million households participated in the food stamps program in February 2017. Enrollment dropped to 39.3 million individuals and 19.6 million households by May 2018.
There are at least two major factors at work in this decline: a strong jobs market and states enforcing work requirements for some SNAP recipients.
President Trump touted work requirements in a tweet late last week in hopes that the Senate would keep work requirements for able-bodied Americans in legislation under consideration:
@realDonaldTrump: When the House and Senate meet on the very important Farm Bill – we love our farmers – hopefully they will be able to leave the WORK REQUIREMENTS FOR FOOD STAMPS PROVISION that the House approved. Senate should go to 51 votes!
2:57 PM – 2 Aug 2018
The House of Representatives has passed an expansion of current work requirements for Able-Bodied Adult Without Dependents (ABAWDs) or persons between the ages of 18 and 49 who have no dependents and are not disabled. They would have to prove every month that they worked, participated in a work program for at least 20 hours a week, or qualified for an exemption.
This would strengthen reforms already underway at the federal and state level to impose work requirements on welfare programs.
One way able-bodied Americans without children have been able to keep receiving benefits despite an improving economy is because states have chosen to waive work requirements due to the economic downturn. While that may have been understandable when the unemployment rate was in double digits, today the national unemployment rate stands at 3.9 percent and 48 out of 50 states have unemployment rates below 5 percent. It’s time to close loopholes that allow states to continue taking advantage of such waivers.
In January, the administration also issued new guidance on the Medicaid program that will allow states to impose community engagement requirements, meaning a requirement to work or engage in other activities like skills training, education, job search, volunteering, or caregiving, as a prerequisite to receiving benefits.
The point of work requirements is to ensure that vital public resources actually benefit the poor. When anti-poverty programs are overcrowded, the most vulnerable populations -like indigent children, pregnant women, the elderly and the disabled- suffer most.
It’s been nearly 22 years since bipartisan welfare reform was enacted, and it worked in lowering the caseloads of single moms on public assistance. We are overdue for reforms that will set even more Americans on a path to independence.