Welfare reform should be a major focus in tonight's GOP debate

cnbc-debateTonight, Fox Business News and the Wall Street Journal will host two separate debates with the remaining crop of 2016 GOP presidential hopefuls.  Following the disaster that was the CNBC Republican primary debate, moderators for tonight’s proceeding have vowed a “real debate” focused on “real issues.”


It remains to be seen whether or not the questions asked of the candidates tonight will focus on the issues Americans really care about, but with under one year before the nation elects their next president, candidates should be continually searching for issues that will help them appeal to as many voters as possible, without alienating their base. One issue that deserves a closer look is welfare reform, and the results from recent polling should make the issue even more attractive.

The welfare reform package passed by a Republican Congress and signed into law in 1996 by Democratic President Bill Clinton received strong bipartisan support, specifically the work requirements that were at the heart of the legislation. These rules meant that able-bodied childless adults had to work at least 20 hours a week in order to qualify for food stamps.

Unfortunately, President Obama weakened the work requirements, allowing states to waive them entirely, and other actions by his administration further expanded the welfare system to cover millions more able-bodied childless adults under Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion and other measures.

Still, support for work requirements remains high, especially among Republican voters in some key primary states, as shown in this poll conducted by FGA Action.

The idea of requiring able-bodied, working-age adults on food stamps to work at least 20 hours a week received strong support in each state that was polled. Seventy-nine percent of New Hampshire Republicans said they would support this, followed closely by 74 percent of Florida Republican, 73 percent of South Carolina Republicans, and 69 percent of Iowa Republicans.


A similar question that asked if poll respondents supported requiring Medicaid recipients to work at least 20 hours a week received even stronger support: 83 percent of New Hampshire Republicans, 76 percent of Florida Republicans, 75 percent of South Carolina Republicans, and 64 percent of Iowa Republicans.

“But welfare reform is more than just good politics. It’s also good policy,” wrote Josh Archambault at Forbes. “It doesn’t just protect limited resources for the truly needy, including seniors, children and individuals with disabilities. It also gives work-ready adults a ladder out of the welfare pit and the hope of a better life.”

This kind of welfare reform is already enjoying immense popularity at the state level. Townhall reported recently that nearly twenty states plan to enforce work requirements in 2016, and Forbes provided more details about how Kansas’ successful work requirements are not just saving taxpayer money, but improving lives.

In Kansas under Gov. Sam Brownback, they restored the work requirements in 2013 and also instituted a tracking program to follow food stamp recipients after they left the program.

Within just the first three months, about half of the able-bodied adults in Kansas’ welfare program with the work requirements were able to quit receiving food stamps. Perhaps most importantly for long term success, this group increased their earnings an average of 55 percent in the year after they left the program. That more than offsets any lost benefits.


Work requirements turn welfare recipients into taxpayers, but best of all, they help restore the dignity and independence that puts people on a long term path to success.

As Americans tune in tonight looking for direction and answers from the GOP 2016 presidential field, candidates would be wise to focus on real solutions to the declining labor force participation rate and America’s expanding welfare class.  Comprehensive welfare reform is one way to address both while also helping millions of Americans regain the dignity that comes with work.


Kristina Ribali is the Senior Coalitions Director for the Foundation for Government Accountability.  Follow Kristina on Twitter or reach her via email at [email protected].


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