More Dependency Isn’t the Answer to PA Poverty

Department of Human Services (DHS) Secretary Teresa Miller wants more people on food stamps (or SNAP). In a hearing with the Senate Appropriations Committee, she argued that because the program is 100 percent federally funded it makes fiscal sense for the state. Make no mistake, this is a shocking statement that shows the true goal of DHS isn't reducing poverty, but boosting the number of Pennsylvanians dependent on their services.

Encouraging and embracing work is the best way to combat poverty. That’s why SNAP requires healthy adults without kids at home to work part-time.

In the hearing, Senator Scott Wagner pointed out fewer Pennsylvanians on food stamps are required to work this year versus last even though the unemployment rate in Pennsylvania is down and employers are facing a skilled labor crisis. Fifty-eight counties are completely exempt from work requirements, up from 50 counties in 2017.

It’s harmful to individuals and the economy at large to focus on a temporary benefit instead of boosting lifetime earnings for Pennsylvania families. Somewhere along the line our human service system became solely focused on ensuring Pennsylvanians can survive—but in doing so they now resist policies designed to help Pennsylvanians thrive.

Work, not enrollment in food stamps, Medicaid or any other program is the ultimate pathway out of poverty. Employment isn't just about income, but is also integral to raising self-esteem, developing soft skills, and setting a positive example for the next generation. That's why the work requirement can also be met through 20 community service hours a week.

West Virginia is the latest state to recognize the harm in widespread work waivers for healthy adults. Gov. Justice recently signed a bill that will restore work and volunteer requirements statewide on October 1. In contrast, Pennsylvania just received permission to extend SNAP benefits to community college students even if they have the time and ability to work.

With a worsening manufacturing and construction labor shortage, it's nonsensical that the vast majority of healthy adult Pennsylvanians using food stamps are exempt from work or volunteer requirements.

Giving more Pennsylvanians the tools to support themselves reduces federal spending and ultimately the burden on all Pennsylvanians. But, more importantly, waiving work requirements for healthy adults hurts the very people DHS is supposed to help. Instead of a temporary boost to their grocery budget, our government programs must focus on the critical task of connecting people with the jobs and training that will bring permanent stability for their families.