By Jesse Hathaway
When the Alabama Legislature convenes in January 2018, a pre-filed bill will be waiting for them that would promote self-reliance and prosperity for everyone by making common-sense reforms to the state’s welfare system, saving taxpayers’ money and getting people get back to work.
House Bill 6, introduced by state Rep. Tommy Hanes (R-Bryant), would prohibit the state’s Department of Human Resources from requesting a waiver from the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act’s (PRWORA) work requirements, which mandate able-bodied adults without dependents seek education or employment while receiving benefits. The bill would also ensure food stamp recipients without disabilities work at least 20 hours per week or participate in educational classes or job training programs.
As President Bill Clinton noted when he signed PRWORA into law in 1996, the best cure for poverty is a paying job. PRWORA contains strong work requirements and performance bonuses that reward states for successfully moving welfare recipients back to self-dependence and employment.
Unfortunately, PRWORA’s work requirement provisions were gutted by former president Barack Obama, who allowed states to opt out of having to help people get back on their feet. This has caused significant problems and trapped many people in poverty.
Over the past couple of years, many state legislatures have approved bills similar to HB 6, including Georgia, Kansas, Maine, and Mississippi, to help restore fiscal sanity and impoverished populations. Other states, such as Tennessee, are choosing to reinstate their work requirements through executive agency actions.
Instead of seeking to simply increase the number of people signed up for welfare programs, work requirements ensure welfare is serving its intended purpose, by reducing the number of enrollees who no longer require assistance because they can help themselves. This helps to guarantee taxpayers’ money is spent aiding those who are truly needy.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s September 2017 report, “Income and Poverty in the United States: 2016,” about one out of every eight individuals was in poverty at some point during 2016.
“The official poverty rate decreased by 0.8 percentage points between 2015 and 2016,” the report’s authors wrote. “At 12.7 percent, the 2016 poverty rate is not statistically different from 2007, the year before the most recent recession.”
Even though poverty levels have improved in recent years and stayed the same since 2007, the number of people enrolled in government programs has ballooned over the same period. In 2007, 26.5 million Americans received SNAP benefits. By 2016, the number of people on food stamps had skyrocketed to 41.3 million, a 55.8 percent increase. In tangible terms, if the number of people dependent on taxpayer assistance were represented by a regulation-sized basketball in 2007, in 2016, the welfare rolls would be represented by a 46-inch jumbo beach ball.
The best cure for poverty is not welfare, it’s a job. In 2002, Johns Hopkins University economics professor Robert Moffitt studied how unemployed women fared under PRWORA compared to their outcomes under the former Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) entitlement program. Moffitt found under PRWORA and its work requirements, more single mothers were able to begin financially supporting their families than before.
“The overriding single piece of evidence showing that progress has been made on the agenda of helping mothers on welfare work is the dramatic increase in employment rates among single mothers in the last decade,” Moffitt wrote. “Among single mothers who have never been married (the group with the lowest levels of education and some of the highest rates of welfare receipt) employment rates rose … from 47 percent to 65 percent [between 1994 and 1999.]”
Incentivizing self-reliance and personal growth is the best way to help people help themselves, and welfare work requirements do just that, thereby freeing people from a cycle of dependency and despair.
Jesse Hathaway ([email protected]) is a research fellow with The Heartland Institute.