The federal budget always seems to be a hot topic, whether over some mid-year appropriations bill or another massive Omnibus foisted upon us by Congress with one of their manufactured end-of-December deadlines. Today is no different, as the recent debate over proposed cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also know as "food stamps", proved.
The change to SNAP would enhance work requirements, effectively moving people off of the welfare program and into the job market. Since temporary relief for those in need has been the stated goal of welfare programs since their inception, it's tough to see how that would be a bad thing.
The biggest problem with the modern welfare state is that it measures its own success by how many people are receiving aid. This gives bureaucrats and politicians an incentive to both keep poor people on welfare and to add more people to the rolls. This turns welfare into a trap - a self-perpetuating cycle of politicians keeping their constituents dependent on the government and bribing them with continued handouts.
Among states that have embraced work requirements for welfare programs, there are already some great examples of how they're seeing people's lives improve. The Department of Health and Human Services in Maine released a report
showing that enforcement of time limits for their Maine Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program led to people changing their circumstances, increasing their incomes and reaching a point where TANF aid is no longer needed. This appears to be a good thing considering that the "T" in TANF stands for "temporary" after all. Kansas also released a report
back in February 2016, showing similar results when enforcing welfare time limit requirements.
Here's the thing: long-term charity doesn't work. There are some people out there who genuinely need the help, but the vast majority of Americans who need government assistance just need something in the short-term to help them through a tough spot. This is where welfare becomes a trap. Extend it in perpetuity, and there's no point in going out and finding a job. Once you reach a certain income level, depending on the state & federal programs available, you actually end up taking a pay cut
by working too much, because you phase yourself out of certain programs. Why try, when the government will provide?
Several years ago, a coworker of mine was laid off. We were working on a state project in California, back when the California state legislature could never pass a budget on time and ended up shutting down every year. When the government started handing out IOUs, we had to stop work and start sending people home.
My coworker ended up going on unemployment - he had a family to feed, after all. A few weeks later, when the legislature passed the budget and the government paid its bill, we started calling people back to work. My coworker later recounted the story of when he told the unemployment office he was going back to work:
"Hey, man...so...I don't need unemployment anymore. I'm going back to work."
"Oh, okay. How much are they paying you?"
"Twelve dollars an hour."
"Really? I can get you more than that."
"Uh...no thanks. I'd rather work."
"Are you sure? I can get you fifteen."
"Yeah, I'm sure."
California happens to be one of the states that opted out of work requirements back when they had an option and the state has not been better off for it.
Sometimes people just need a little push and they can make a lot more out of their lives than they ever would living off of government assistance. The naysayers warn that work requirements will hurt thousands of Americans, but the evidence coming from states where work requirements are enforced says otherwise. Instead of keeping people languishing in poverty, how about we give them that little push and help them to succeed?