Welfare reform

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Thursday the 19th of April, 2018.

Glad to have you along for today’s episode of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

Congress and the president worked together back in 1996 to begin a bipartisan reform of the welfare system. A key feature was a work requirement.

But since the year 2000, the number of able-bodied adults on Medicaid has quadrupled.

This, even as the economy is strong and businesses have jobs available that they can’t fill.

REICHARD: 16 million able-bodied adults receive food stamps as of 2016. And over the past five years, enrollments in Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program increased nearly 30 percent.

EICHER: Since last week, new efforts at reform have advanced on two fronts. One, an executive order President Trump issued April 10th. It outlines the reasons further reform is needed, and sets up expectations for agencies that deliver public assistance.

The second front to welfare reform is included in a farm bill proposed by House Republicans. That contains the “hows” of reform, with specifics on who must work and other expectations predicated on public assistance.

REICHARD: Let’s get some bigger context. What did the last big welfare reform in the 1990s accomplish? What did it NOT accomplish?

MARVIN OLASKY, EDITOR IN CHIEF: The 1996 Welfare Reform Act required most welfare recipients to work at least part-time, but it dealt with only one program, then called Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC). Congress left alone more than 70 others. Now, unemployment is low just about everywhere in the United States, but welfare enrollment among able-bodied adults is at a record high.

OK, then how do these new attempts expand on those reforms from 20 years ago?

OLASKY: Well the new Trump executive order tells the departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, and six others to review welfare programs such as Medicaid, Section 8 Housing, and others. The departments are ordered to propose new regulations that will require most recipients to work or enter a serious job-training program.

Let’s talk specifics now. What are the new work requirements in order to get food stamps? Known as the SNAP program, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

OLASKY: Well the bill being pushed in the House of Representatives has lots of specifics. Adults would have to work or participate in work training for at least 20 hours per week. Exceptions would include seniors, pregnant women, those taking care of children under six years old, or people with disabilities. But those changes will probably never take place.

Why do you think those changes are not likely to happen?

OLASKY: They would not go into effect until 2021. By then, welfare defenders hope and expect Democrats to be in charge again. Even if they are not, the federal bureaucracy is filled with people who see required work as punishment for the poor—and know how to interpret regulations in ways that maximize alternatives to work and exceptions to requirements. Opponents of change can mobilize liberal judges to halt imposition of new standards. They will enlist liberal academics to produce studies claiming that change will hurt children.

So what has to change in American culture concerning the importance of work?

OLASKY: We need to see work as a gift, not a penalty. God gave Adam physical and intellectual work before the fall: tending the garden, naming the animals. Since then work has been harder, but being productive makes us happy. We see that even with babies: It’s child abuse to leave a baby just staring at the ceiling all day—they love crib activity centers where they can make little things move or make noises. It’s adult abuse to leave a grownup sitting in front of a television hour after hour.

Marvin Olasky is editor in chief for WORLD Magazine. Thanks so much, Marvin!

OLASKY: You’re very welcome, Mary.

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