By Jonathan Ingram, Nic Horton and Josh Archambault — Mr. Ingram is Research Director, Mr. Horton is Policy Impact Specialist and Mr. Archambault is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for Government Accountability.
Governors across the country are leading a new welfare reform revolution. From Maine to Indiana to New Mexico, bold leaders are making common-sense changes that will preserve the safety net for the truly needy.
As this revolution continues to spread across the map, state policymakers need to know these policy changes – restoring work requirements for able-bodied adults without kids on food stamps – are already having transformative results for enrollees and taxpayers.
Work Waivers Foster Dependency
Although federal law requires able-bodied childless adults on food stamps to work or search for work, 42 states partially or fully waived that requirement in 2015. These waivers allow able-bodied adults to stay on the food stamps rolls indefinitely, regardless of whether they’re looking for work.
It’s no surprise, then, that able-bodied adults are staying on food stamps longer than ever, costing taxpayers and the truly needy who rely on the food stamp program for survival.
When those work requirements were still in effect, most childless adults receiving food stamps exited the program within a year. Nearly a third of them exited within the first six months. Fewer than six percent were enrolled for 8 years or more.
But able-bodied adults are staying on food stamps longer than ever due to the waivers from the work requirement.
Currently, nearly a quarter of non-disabled childless adults on food stamps stay on the rolls for more than eight years. Just 14 percent exit within the first six months. Most of these adults are now staying on the program for more than two years. Worse yet, three-quarters of them report earning no income at all.
Governors Pave the Way, Offer Americans a Hand Up
But states don’t have to waive those requirements. In 2013, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback and former Texas Governor Rick Perry – now a 2016 contender – blazed the trail on this commonsense reform, restoring work requirements statewide for able-bodied adults on food stamps. In 2014, Maine Governor Paul LePage followed suit, moving more adults out of welfare and back into the workforce.
This common-sense reform preserves resources for the truly needy, propels enrollees toward work and a better life, and provides a boost to states’ economies.
When states first adopted work-first welfare reforms, millions of welfare recipients moved into the labor force, spurring greater economic growth, lower caseloads, higher employment and lower poverty rates, particularly among the most at-risk populations. States restoring these work requirements are seeing similar results today.
It’s no wonder these reforms are now spreading like wildfire. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker – also a presidential contender – wisely restored work requirements earlier this year. Indiana Governor Mike Pence followed suit in July. New Mexico Governor Susana Martinez recently gave notice that those requirements would go back into effect in October.
At least 5 other governors have signaled their intent to let these waivers expire and bring work requirements back to the food stamps program. Rumors are buzzing in capitols across the country that other states may soon do the same. With so many governors running for president, it may even become a 2016 campaign issue.
By letting the waivers expire, governors can propel these able-bodied adults back into the labor force and out of dependency, helping to grow the economy and restore the working class. This common-sense reform will not only counteract the poverty trap, it will provide needed relief for taxpayers and protect limited resources for those who need help the most.