The economy is soaring and unemployment is at its lowest point in more than a decade. Despite this good news, far too many Americans find themselves out of the workforce or lacking the skills needed to land a good-paying job.
Yet there are more than six million job openings throughout the country.
Now, more than any time this century, we have an opportunity to empower individuals to change their circumstances and look toward acquiring new skills that will lead to greater opportunities.
Because of the tremendous opportunities before us, the House Agriculture Committee has proposed significant reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, formerly known as food stamps. As vice chairman of the committee, I have been at the forefront of the effort to improve this important social safety net, while encouraging workforce participation for those who can and want to work.
Contrary to a lot of partisan rhetoric, this is not an effort to blindly slash a government program in the name of cost savings, or a nefarious effort to force out our most vulnerable citizens. My commitment has been to ensure the next farm bill makes historic investments in job training to provide long-term work opportunities and focus on helping millions of work-capable Americans gain viable employment.
Since 1971, there have been general work requirements for SNAP recipients. However in recent years, a number of states have skirted these requirements by issuing waivers that allow approximately two-thirds of the able-bodied adults to continue receiving benefits without performing the minimum work required. These waivers have also created loopholes that allow some recipients to receive benefits despite having assets that would otherwise make them ineligible to participate in the program.
One of the major reforms proposed in the farm bill is to close the loopholes that allow states to bypass SNAP’s work requirements for work-capable adults who should be working or enrolled in job training programs. Additionally, we aim to update the asset metrics, which have not been adjusted since the 1970s. More than 65 percent of SNAP recipients are children, seniors, the disabled, or adults with dependent children under the age of 6. For the other 35 percent of participants, these changes will strengthen work requirements for capable adults and make them enforceable.
Those who fall into this category will need to work at least 20 hours per week or be enrolled in a state-approved job training program. To ensure that every state is able to provide placement, the bill directs a significant portion of existing SNAP funds into job training programs for eligible adults. If the state does not have an adequate opening, the individual will not be held liable. Coupling the stronger work requirement with fully-funded job training will result in significantly more SNAP recipients finding work or getting on a path to employment.
Critics and partisans have alleged that the states would be unable to implement this work requirement, as it would lead to more mandates and an unworkable “new bureaucracy.” This is simply false. The work requirement would interact with existing programs, including state programs funded by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, or WIOA, and existing state infrastructure.
These are commonsense reforms that will encourage and support low-income individuals who are capable of finding employment. It is my hope these initiatives will lead to a pathway out of poverty for many Americans, perhaps some who have been there for generations. We have been presented with an economy that affords us this once in a lifetime chance to help many find their path to self-sufficiency and those who are temporarily in the program get back on their feet.
Let’s use common sense when it comes to promoting policies that encourage work and not squander the great opportunity before us.
Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson is a Republican representing Pennsylvania’s 5th District. He serves as vice chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and chairman of the Agriculture Subcommittee on Nutrition.
This op-ed is part of a point-counterpoint presentation on work requirements in anti-poverty programs. See the opposing take by Democratic Reps. Rosa DeLauro of Connecticut and Linda T. Sánchez of California here.
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