Politics & Policy

Welfare Reform Can Flourish in the Post-Obama Era

Wisconsin governor Scott Walker (Photo: Gage Skidmore)
Pro-work, anti-poverty reforms are originating in the states instead of Washington.

As the dust of the Obama administration continues to settle, a trend is growing across the country: State leaders are stepping up to tackle big problems in their welfare systems. Specifically, states are moving away from policies that promote long-term dependency and towards reforms that are pro-work and pro-independence.

As recently as two years ago, for example, 42 states had a policy of partially or fully waiving work requirements for non-disabled, childless adults on food stamps. Today, however, just seven states are waiving these work requirements entirely and many states with partial waivers are moving to eliminate them. Now one governor is pushing the envelope even further.

Under Governor Scott Walker’s leadership, Wisconsin has already taken key steps in welfare reform. Before Walker, the Badger State had waived work requirements for able-bodied adults, but in 2014 he implemented work requirements in select areas of the state and he expanded those requirements statewide the following year.

These were important reforms. Aside from being tremendously popular with voters, work requirements are one of the most effective tools states have to reduce government dependency. Reform states like Kansas and Maine have seen able-bodied adults cycle out of welfare, get back to work (or start working more), and more than double their incomes on average. These income gains have been great enough to offset the lost welfare benefits, leaving recipients better off than they were before welfare reform.

Before Kansas’s reform, its food-stamp program trapped individuals in poverty and dependency. One individual had been stuck in dependency for four years before reform, not working at all. But after work requirements were implemented, that same individual was working and making $45,000 in the publishing industry. That’s the power of work requirements.

Now Wisconsin’s Governor Walker is making a push to expand work requirements even further and help free even more individuals from the welfare trap. Currently, food-stamp work requirements only apply to non-disabled adults with no dependents. Even though work is the single greatest predictor of the absence of poverty, work requirements don’t currently apply to parents on food stamps or to any able-bodied adults on Medicaid or in public housing. Walker wants to change that.

Wisconsin’s Governor Scott Walker is making a push to expand work requirements even further and help free even more individuals from the welfare trap.

As part of his executive budget, Walker is proposing a pilot program that would expand work requirements to able-bodied adults on food stamps with school-age children. In addition, his budget calls for extending work requirements to childless adults on Medicaid and pursuing a pilot program to implement them in public housing.

These reforms are desperately needed. The number of people dependent on welfare programs such as food stamps and Medicaid has more than doubled over the last ten to 15 years. Walker’s reforms would counteract this wave of increased dependency.

In his inaugural address, President Trump committed to getting Americans off welfare and back to work. Walker’s reforms will help do just that. When these proposals make their way to the White House, they may even get a helping hand from President Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus — a Wisconsin GOP alumnus and close Walker ally. And if they are quickly approved, Wisconsin would be the first state in the nation to implement these reforms.

Governor Walker should be commended for these proposals which send a clear message to lawmakers in Washington (including his close friend, House speaker Paul Ryan) that states are ready and willing to reform welfare. Walker’s proposal also shows that states have innovative ideas about how to reduce government dependency and promote self-sufficiency; they just need to be empowered.

As the new Congress begins to sift through its legislative priorities, it should take note of what’s happening in Wisconsin. Not only are states anxious and willing to help lead the welfare reform charge — they’re already doing it.

— Nicholas Horton is a senior research fellow at the Foundation for Government Accountability. Follow him on Twitter @nhhorton.

Nicholas Horton — Nicholas Horton is the research director for the Foundation for Government Accountability.

Most Popular

PC Culture

Hate-Crime Hoaxes Reflect America’s Sickness

On January 29, tabloid news site TMZ broke the shocking story that Jussie Smollett, a gay black entertainer and progressive activist, had been viciously attacked in Chicago. Two racist white men had fractured his rib, poured bleach on him, and tied a noose around his neck. As they were leaving, they shouted ... Read More
World

Ilhan Omar’s Big Lie

In a viral exchange at a congressional hearing last week, the new congresswoman from Minnesota, Ilhan Omar, who is quickly establishing herself as the most reprehensible member of the House Democratic freshman class despite stiff competition, launched into Elliott Abrams. She accused the former Reagan official ... Read More
Politics & Policy

The Strange Paradoxes of Our Age

Modern prophets often say one thing and do another. Worse, they often advocate in the abstract as a way of justifying their doing the opposite in the concrete. The result is that contemporary culture abounds with the inexplicable — mostly because modern progressivism makes all sorts of race, class, and ... Read More
PC Culture

Fake Newspeople

This week, the story of the Jussie Smollett hoax gripped the national media. The story, for those who missed it, went something like this: The Empire actor, who is both black and gay, stated that on a freezing January night in Chicago, in the middle of the polar vortex, he went to a local Subway store to buy a ... Read More
U.S.

White Progressives Are Polarizing America

To understand how far left (and how quickly) the Democratic party has moved, let’s cycle back a very short 20 years. If 1998 Bill Clinton ran in the Democratic primary today, he’d be instantaneously labeled a far-right bigot. His support for the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the Defense of Marriage Act, ... Read More
Elections

One Last Grift for Bernie Sanders

Bernie Sanders, the antique Brooklyn socialist who represents Vermont in the Senate, is not quite ready to retire to his lakeside dacha and so once again is running for the presidential nomination of a party to which he does not belong with an agenda about which he cannot be quite entirely ... Read More
PC Culture

Merciless Sympathy

Jussie Smollett’s phony hate-crime story could have been taken apart in 24 hours, except for one thing: Nobody wanted to be the first to call bullsh**. Who will bell the cat? Not the police, and I don’t blame them. Smollett is a vocal critic of President Donald Trump who checks two protected-category ... Read More
U.S.

Questions for Those Who Believed Jussie Smollett

The “we reported the Jussie Smollett case responsibly” contention has been blasted to smithereens. Twitter accounts and headlines in the Washington Post, the New York Times, and the Los Angeles Times reported as fact Jussie Smollett’s wildly implausible allegations, and many other journalists did so as ... Read More