Thanks to a revived economy spinning out jobs, the number of people on food stamps dropped by 2 million people last year, according to a new report. That’s great news, both for those who are leaving food stamps and for taxpayers. And more can — and should — be done.
Those who get Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits declined from 44.219 million in 2016 to 42.182 million by the end of last year, a drop of just over 2 million or about 4.6% in one year, the Washington Free Beacon reports. In a back of the envelope calculation, the Beacon estimates the decline will save U.S. taxpayers around $3 billion a year.
This is a good start, the result more than anything of good economic policies such as tax cuts and deregulation that make it easier for businesses to hire and for those using welfare services to go back to work. No question, we have economic tailwinds at our back. With this, comes the possibility of bigger, structural reforms to welfare. “Ending welfare as we know it,” as it used to be called.
It won’t be easy. The left has every intention of keeping as many people as possible on welfare. Why? They’re a ready voting bloc for the party of the welfare state, the Democrats. And they will do anything to keep it that way, even demonize those who disagree. Even supposedly mainstream Democrats are shrill in their opposition to anything resembling real reform. Former Vice President Joe Biden’s economic advisor Jared Bernstein last month called any talk of welfare reform a “racist dog whistle.”
The problem is, by any realistic measure, welfare has been a failure. Since LBJ’s Great Society welfare programs of the 1960s, which marked the beginning of the modern American welfare state, the U.S. has spent an estimated $28 trillion on means-tested welfare with no end to poverty or need.
Despite accusations of racism such as Bernstein’s, some 63% of all welfare recipients are white. So this is not a matter of race; it’s a matter of reintroducing people now on the sidelines back into the workforce. That’s a matter of common sense, something lacking these days in the bitter debate over welfare reform.
So what would welfare reform look like?
Wisconsin’s recent reform bill, passed by the state’s legislature without any Democratic votes, would increase work and training requirements for able-bodied welfare recipients, while also creating a health savings account for Medicaid to help the state’s taxpayers and aid recipients to cut costs.
But does it work? Under previous welfare reforms put in place by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, some 25,000 welfare recipients have returned to full-time work.
“You want to have a welfare system that’s compassionate, that gives assistance to those who need it, but welfare shouldn’t be a one-way handout,” said Robert Rector, a senior research fellow and longtime critic of U.S. welfare policy at the Heritage Foundation, speaking to The Hill last month.
At least 11 other states are now seeking federal waivers for requiring those who are able to work to do so in order to continue to get benefits. Three of those states — Kentucky, Indiana and Arkansas — have already sought and received waivers.
Yes, it’s a simple reform, but one that helps those on welfare make the sometimes painful move back into the workforce. Because it’s a simple economic fact: A full-time job is the best way to ensure you’re not poor in America.
Current calls for a “universal basic income” ignore the fact that it’s really just another phrase for “universal welfare.” Encouraging people not to work is always a mistake.
The truth is, with Democrats willing to demagogue the issue of welfare reform to win votes in the 2018 midterm elections, sweeping plans to change welfare are likely going nowhere. House Speaker Paul Ryan has steadfastly pushed to have Congress pass bills to both reform entitlements and make work more attractive for welfare recipients. But any such move might have to wait for a non-election year, if ever.
In the meantime, President Trump is encouraging states to go for it by creating welfare reform plans tailored to their own needs, not to Washington’s. In the long run, the states might be the best path to take anyway. After all, one-size-fits-all reforms rarely work. That’s how we got into this mess in the first place, by LBJ declaring a “War on Poverty.” It was well-intended, but instead of liberating economically struggling Americans, it turned into a war on minorities and the poor, a trap from which it became difficult if not nearly impossible to escape.
Reforms at the state and national level can put an end to that. Let’s get going.