Restoring the Dignity of Work

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The benefits of work, such as income, personal satisfaction, and a sense of purpose, are widely known. Yet major welfare programs treat work as a burden or an inconvenience instead of the pathway to prosperity. Only seven percent of all able-bodied Pennsylvanians on food stamps are required to work, and the commonwealth has one of the highest ratios of families on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families long-term. These anti-work policies underlie the rapid growth of human services spending, which is growing faster than state revenues and the overall state economy.

Recently, states have rediscovered the benefits of requiring work for healthy adults without dependents receiving food stamps. These requirements help individuals prosper, spur economic growth, and stabilize human service programs.

In Kansas, for example, 75 percent of recipients left the program after the state implemented work requirements. In Florida, enrollment among able-bodied adults declined by roughly 85 percent in the first 10 months. There are nearly 535,000 fewer people dependent on food stamps in Florida today than just a year and a half ago, largely due to the power of work requirements. In Maine, the number of able-bodied childless adults on food stamps dropped by an astounding 90 percent.

Based upon these experiences, between 80,000 and 100,000 able-bodied adults could be expected to rejoin Pennsylvania’s workforce.

Kansas and Maine tracked individuals to determine if their lives improved after leaving food stamps. In Kansas, almost half of those removed from the program found work within three months in hundreds of different industries. In the year after leaving welfare, these able-bodied adults saw their incomes increase 127 percent, more than offsetting the loss of food stamps.  Within a year of leaving the food stamp program in Maine, the income of the group rose 114 percent, with the average worker earning more than the federal poverty level. Those leaving food stamps in Pennsylvania could see between $175 million and $210 million in higher wages if work requirements were enforced across the state.

With more Pennsylvanians in the work force, the state would experience $6 to $7 million a year in additional state income taxes, and state taxpayers would save an estimated $3 million in 2018 and more over time.

After Kansas (2013) and Maine (2014) demonstrated the positive impact of work requirements, many states followed their lead. Some states reinstated work requirements with legislation, while others did so through the executive branch. Notably, Florida, Mississippi, Missouri, and North Carolina passed legislation to reinstate work requirements for able-bodied adults. Arkansas and Kansas have codified executive branch decisions, ensuring that these work requirements remain part of the program for years to come.

Restoring work in food stamps alone could significantly improve Pennsylvania by combating poverty and creating more successful welfare programs.