Welfare Reform is Sweeping the Nation

“Right now, America combines near-record-low unemployment with near-record-high welfare dependency — the result of state-level eligibility exemptions, federal loopholes and policies that put work on the back burner.” Those are powerful words from FGA's Kristina Rasmussen that sum up the motivation behind a new wave of welfare reform efforts across the nation.

Last week President Trump released an executive order calling for immediate action in federal agencies to align regulations and practices with economic mobility or emphasizing work.

This follows other efforts in support of work at the federal level. In January, the Center for Medicaid and Medicare Services issued guidance allowing states to impose Medicaid work requirements. The federal farm bill currently working its way through Congress contains significant reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (better known as food stamps), including broad work requirements for adults ages 18-59.

In addition, the President’s FY2019 budget provides even more welfare reform ideas, such as allowing states to consolidate programs into welfare-to-work demonstration projects, strengthening cash welfare’s work participation rate, and allowing states to use federal child support funds to help non-custodial parents get back to work.

This is a stark change from the previous administration’s efforts to expand work exemptions, most notably, watering down work requirements for cash assistance and waiving work for food stamp recipients. The Wall Street Journal notes this winter states were still seeking food stamp waivers from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, including  five statewide waivers and waivers for portions of 28 other states.

In Pennsylvania, food stamp work requirements are in place for just eight counties. To address this problem, the House Health Committee passed HB 1659, sponsored by Rep. Tobash, to limit the amount of food stamp work waivers in Pennsylvania. 

(Graphic:Food Stamp Work Waivers)

On the Medicaid front, the Pennsylvania House passed HB 2138, sponsored by Rep. Dowling, on Wednesday. The bill instructs the Department of Human Services (DHS) to seek federal permission to implement Medicaid work requirements for healthy adults. More than half of healthy adults without young children reported no income while enrolled in Medicaid, according DHS.

The actions of political leaders – other than Gov. Wolf – match public opinion. A national poll found 90% of likely voters agree healthy adults in these programs should work. And two-thirds of Pennsylvania voters support requiring healthy adult Medicaid recipients to pursue work to continue receiving government benefits.

In Pennsylvania and around the nation there is a strong appetite for welfare reform. It’s time to restore the American dream for so many trapped in the cycle of poverty.