After enforcing federal work requirements for its food stamp program, Wisconsin has found work for thousands of recipients, and cleaned the rolls of many ineligible enrollees.
In April 2015, the Badger State began requiring able-bodied adults without children to work or participate in an employment training program for at least 20 hours a week in order to receive food stamps. If they refuse to work or prepare for work, they are limited to three months of benefits. Although this has been mandated under federal law since the 1990s, Wisconsin – like most states – had waived the work requirement in recent years.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker explained that the policy shift was designed to help people “be prepared to help themselves.”
“If someone is an adult, who is able to work and they don’t have children, we ask that they be enrolled in one of our job training programs and they go out with our assistance and look for work.”
Republican state Rep. Mark Born, chairman of the State Assembly’s Committee on Public Benefit Reform, said that the work requirement was designed to “help guide able-bodied adults back into the workforce, or put them on the path to gainful employment while remaining on FoodShare.” Born explained that the new policy was “working as intended” and helping thousands of individuals “secure employment as a result.”
“It is important we continue to enact reforms and transition people from reliance on government to independence.”
Critics of the changes claim that the new policy “could cause massive food shortages in food pantries.” But those dire warnings aren’t supported by evidence in other states that have restored work requirements.
Maine instituted similar reforms in 2014 and has seen dependence on food stamps drop to historic lows. But even people like Arthur Carter, who runs a food pantry in the poorest county in Maine, support the new policy. Other non-profits also support the changes, having witnessed a surge in volunteers from able-bodied adults seeking to meet the new requirements.
Mary Mayhew, Commissioner of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services, explained that the reforms will help move more people back into the labor force and out of government dependency.
“I am extremely pleased to hear that organizations are seeing an increase in volunteerism, and individuals willing to come in and help.
This effort to benefit from employment training, or to volunteer, is what will help individuals out of poverty to ultimately help themselves.”
Kansas is a perfect example of what can happen in a state that enforces federal work requirements.
After Kansas restored work requirements in 2013, the work participation rate among enrollees nearly tripled and average income more than doubled. Those cycling off the program also increased their employment and income, which more than offset the benefits they lost as a result of reform efforts.
That’s a significant improvement for a group of people who were previously depending upon the government to put food on the table. Working can lead these enrollees out of the cycle of government dependence, out of poverty and onto a path toward prosperity. All of that motivated by a requirement to work.
Despite what the main-stream media may have you believe, welfare reform is incredibly popular. A remarkable 82% of Americans support work requirements for welfare programs, and asset tests are supported by 79%.
More than 20 states have committed to enforcing work requirements for their food stamp programs in 2016. Whether in Wisconsin, Kansas, or other states, work requirements for able-bodied, childless adults enable enrollees to move off of government assistance and onto the path of self-reliance. This is something to be championed, regardless of how the media attempts to spin it.
Kristina Ribali is the Senior Coalitions Director for the Foundation for Government Accountability. Follow Kristina on Twitter for the latest on welfare and health care reform.