There used to be a rule in place – part of the sadly abandoned movements toward welfare reform in the 80s and 90s – which required food stamps recipients to do at least some work in order to receive the benefits if they were childless and able bodied. That rule was suspended in most places since the beginning of the crash in 2007, but now that unemployment is allegedly back down to nominal levels and the economy is “stable” across most of the country, that exception is being rolled back. This, of course, has liberals up in arms. (WaPo)
The 20-year-old rule — which was suspended in many states during the economic recession — requires that adults without children or disabilities must have a job in order to receive food stamps through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for more than three months, with some exceptions. Many states have begun to reimpose the federal rule as the economy recovers, with the largest group reviving it at the beginning of this year. As a result, many recipients’ three-month limit expires today, April 1.
The change has reignited a fierce debate between conservative leaders, who say waiving the mandate discourages people from working, and their liberal counterparts, who say the three-month time limit ignores the reality that jobs are still hard to come by for low-skilled workers.
Ah, yes. Those hateful Republicans are at it again, trying to demonize and punish the poor. But while we consider this question, let’s keep in mind that an experiment in precisely such a change has already been rolling out in Maine. We talked about this last month when the Left was all aflutter over that state’s decision to require ABAWD (able bodied adults without dependents) to put in some work while remaining on the SNAP program long term.
In the first three months after Maine’s work policy went into effect, its caseload of able-bodied adults without dependents plummeted by 80 percent, falling from 13,332 recipients in Dec. 2014 to 2,678 in March 2015.
There were plenty of job openings in Maine already and the result of that work requirement was a major savings for the taxpayer. As they found out, those who truly couldn’t work or needed to care for children were easily able to demonstrate that and their benefits continued uninterrupted. But a significant number of recipients were either able to find a job or, as it turned out, had been working under the table to avoid taxes and collecting benefits on top of that. Those individuals dropped off the rolls quickly.
As I noted last month, we can see the direct effect of going in the opposite direction on such policy by looking at New York City, where Mayor Bill de Blasio has essentially thrown welfare reform into reverse.
The number of New Yorkers on welfare is reportedly on the rise, with about 13,000 more people being added to the rolls during the mayor’s first year in office.
The New York Post is reporting that the cash assistance program swelled by 4 percent in 2014.
According to an advanced look at the “Poverty and Progress in New York” report, the jump comes the same year the city added around 90,000 jobs.
When you remove work requirements entirely for the childless, able bodied recipients, there will always be some percentage who will seek to game the system for their own advantage. That’s just a fact of life. (And before you get your liberal undies in a twist, this applies across all demographic lines.) These programs aren’t “punishing” anyone or discriminating. They are providing an incentive toward upward mobility and ensuring that only those truly in need are drawing down resources from the system.