Farm bill reforms will get food stamps back to work for Americans
For too long, we’ve let food stamps, a massive part of America’s traditional welfare safety net, become a trap that keeps people who can and should be working dependent on the program. When the House of Representatives successfully passed the farm bill in June — and with it, provisions that expanded work requirements to able-bodied adults with no dependents and delivered much-needed welfare reform — we set out on the path to right this wrong. And now, as the bill moves into conferencing, it’s imperative that Congress continues the momentum toward reform by passing a farm bill that includes work requirements.
The House Agriculture Committee held 21 hearings on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, aka food stamps. When we began looking at what the food stamp program had become, we asked ourselves whether we were keeping people dependent or empowering them to do better in life and create their American dream. In the past, food stamps have helped people who’ve fallen on hard times, but all too often the program has encouraged a mindset that keeps people trapped in the program. That’s how we’ve managed to spend $20-plus trillion “fighting poverty” since the 1960s, and yet we have a higher poverty rate today than we did back then. That war was really a war on work.
The 2018 Farm Bill is an important step toward ending the war on work, while also protecting these resources for the people who genuinely need them — including seniors, individuals with disabilities, and children. It helps ensure the safety net is still there for those of us who have fallen on hard times.
However, for some able-bodied adults, food stamps and other welfare programs have become a way of life. We have near-record numbers of people on food stamps at a time when we have near-record low unemployment, and that makes no sense. When you have millions of able-bodied adults on food stamps while employers are trying to fill more than six million open jobs across the country, something is wrong with our welfare policy. The 2018 Farm Bill aims to address this issue directly.
The bill makes meaningful changes to protect resources for the truly needy, while also encouraging every able-bodied recipient to become self-sufficient to transition from government dependency to a life of self-sufficiency.
The 1996 bipartisan welfare reforms that Bill Clinton signed into law had the most significant reduction in welfare recipients in history. These reforms showed us that encouraging people on welfare to work while helping them get the training they need to find a good job is a huge part of making welfare a temporary stop, not a permanent lifestyle. This example should be used for SNAP recipients.
The nation saw SNAP recipients grow from 26.5 million in 2006 to over 46 million in 2014. Now with our country at full employment, the SNAP rolls have only slightly reduced to 41.5 million enrollees. The Farm Bill allows states to decide if their work capable adults between 18 and 59, with no dependents under 6, must work, attend job training, or volunteer. This bill also expands the requirement that food stamp recipients work or go through job training to able-bodied, middle-aged adults and parents while ensuring at least one parent can focus entirely on the hard work of raising children.
Conservatives in Congress now have the opportunity to help millions of able-bodied adults stuck on food stamps. In Florida, of the nearly 1.8 million able-bodied adults on food stamps, 67 percent are not working. That means there are over one million Floridians who are stuck on SNAP without the opportunity to work to create a better life for themselves and their families. By not encouraging these able-bodied adults to work, we’re robbing them of that opportunity.
But the farm bill restores that opportunity: Under the new legislation, nearly 1.1 million able-bodied Floridians will be subject to the work requirement, meaning they will need to work, train, or volunteer on a part-time basis to receive these taxpayer-funded benefits. We know these work requirements are effective and successful. When Kansas implemented work requirements for able-bodied adults, enrollees who went back to work doubled their incomes, on average, and they found work in over 600 diverse industries.
Their time spent on SNAP was cut in half, meaning that there were more resources available to be allocated to the truly needy. We know the same can happen in Florida, and states across the nation.
These commonsense reforms will safeguard the food stamp program for the truly needy while helping others get back on their own two feet. It’s more important than ever that Congress do the right thing and pass the farm bill to fulfill the government’s responsibility to give citizens the opportunity to create their American dream through work, not a government check.
Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., serves on the House Agriculture Committee. Kristina Rasmussen is the vice president of federal affairs at the Foundation for Government Accountability.