Arkansas Latest to Demonstrate Power of Work Over Poverty

Once again, incomes are rising, tax revenue is up, and welfare enrollment is shrinking thanks to work requirements. A recent analysis from the Foundation for Government Accountability finds Arkansas’s elimination of work waivers for healthy adult food stamp recipients led to a 70 percent decline in enrollment and, most importantly, these individuals tripled their income within two years of leaving the program.

Work requirements spurred thousands to take full time jobs and experience income growth that continued over the course of two years. These aren’t just jobs, but good paying careers with room for growth. For example,

Within a quarter of leaving food stamps, Sarah was making $43,000. After two years, Sarah’s yearly income had increased to $51,000, nearly $20,000 more than her county’s median income.

Experience in Kansas and other states show that individuals exiting welfare work in a variety of jobs including IT, health care, and finance.

Taxpayers also benefited from $2.8 million in savings, and state tax revenue over the same period increased by $2.3 million.

Today, former food stamp recipients are better off, employers are better off, and taxpayers are better off because Arkansas decided to prioritize work in the food stamp program.

And lest you think this is a common theme in Arkansas, consider that the state had never enforced food stamp work requirements before. Perhaps the remarkable success of food stamp work requirements played a part in the state’s other pioneering welfare reform effort: work requirements for healthy adults on Medicaid.

Arkansas is the only state currently enforcing work or volunteer requirements for healthy adult Medicaid recipients without dependents. Preliminary numbers are encouraging. An estimated 62 percent of these healthy individuals are working or volunteering compared to 55 percent before work requirements.

And it is worth noting that work requirements apply to a narrow slice of the Medicaid population: just 34,000 of the state’s 270,000 enrollees. Exemptions include individuals with disabilities, those in drug or alcohol treatment, and more.

With recently announced federal regulations to rein in work waivers for food stamps, it is likely these standards will apply to many healthy adults on food stamps in Pennsylvania by 2020. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a role for state government to play.

First, lawmakers should continue to pursue similar work requirements for Medicaid, and the administration should consider the best way to enforce these regulations. Ideally, all anti-poverty programs should include a simple and clear work requirement that is well-designed to lift families out of poverty for good.