Politics & Policy

Demagogy against Work

The Left misrepresents the welfare work requirement.

The next installment of The Hunger Games will be set in Indiana. That appears, at least, to be the prediction of various left-wing media outlets, responding to news that the Hoosier State will not seek a waiver from federal work requirements for various welfare recipients.

Work requirements for welfare recipients were a key element of the 1996 welfare reform passed by a Republican Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton. However, following massive layoffs occasioned by the Great Recession, several states, Indiana among them, sought and received waivers from work requirements under the 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, President Obama’s “stimulus package.” But Republican governors across the country, pointing to an improving economy, have been curtailing their states’ reliance on what was always intended to be a temporary measure. Indiana governor Mike Pence is the latest to follow suit.

So, according to the Indiana Family and Social Services Administration (FSSA):

Starting sometime in calendar year 2015, able-bodied adults without dependents will be limited to 3 months of SNAP benefits within a 36 month period unless they are working an average of 20 hours per week or are participating in the approved employment and training program an average of 20 hours per week, or a combination of both. Our hope is that the employment and training services provided will help these individuals to become gainfully employed and self-sufficient.

The state reports that, of 871,000 recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, some 65,000 — about 7 percent — could be affected by the rule change. But gauging by left-wing reactions, those 7 percent have been condemned to starve in the streets.

The Hunger Games reference was not hyperbole. At the Daily Kos, a contributor explains: “Pence’s policy is that Indiana will be staging the Hunger Games, and the losers don’t get food anymore because they just didn’t try hard enough.” Citing Pence’s comment on Fox News on Wednesday morning that “there’s nothing more ennobling to a person than a job,” lefty armchair politicos have congregated in a Google political forum titled “Because Nothing Builds Character in a Child Like Hunger” — despite the fact that the condition “without dependents” means that children are in no way involved.

None of this is new. In July 2013, when Representative Steve Southerland (R., Fla.) proposed an amendment to a food-stamp-funding bill that would have allowed states to impose on SNAP recipients the more rigorous work requirements required of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) participants, he was excoriated by Democratic opponents. Representative Rosa DeLauro (Conn.) said the proposal was “a vote to end nutrition in America”; never one to be outdone for inflammatory rhetoric, Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (Texas) called the bill an effort to “put starving children in the abyss.”

Meanwhile, the evidence supporting work requirements is undeniable. For the 40 years before the 1996 welfare reform, the number of participants had never decreased significantly; in the four years after, participation dropped by half. In addition, employment rates rose, and poverty rates for black children and children of single mothers dropped to historical lows.

But the backlash against work requirements — even the minimal ones that will be enforced by Indiana next year — has little to do with evidence. That was clear when, in the summer of 2012, President Obama unilaterally ended the work requirements for TANF established in 1996 by issuing a directive giving the Department of Health and Human Services authority to waive them. Despite his avowed interest in getting Americans “back to work,” he undercut what little government incentive remained for not settling onto federal largesse. Is it any surprise that, one year later, 47 million Americans — 1 in 7 — were on food stamps?

The debate over food stamps crystallizes, for anyone who might be confused, exactly how the Left sees America: Where Republicans steal from the mouths of babes, Democrats supply ones daily bread.

And if you’​re interested, they have circuses at the ready, too.

— Ian Tuttle is a William F. Buckley Jr. Fellow at the National Review Institute.

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