President Donald Trump is making a big push to expand work requirements in the nation’s social safety net, calling on his administration to propose tougher rules for America’s most vulnerable population to benefit from welfare programs.
“Since its inception, the welfare system has grown into a large bureaucracy that might be susceptible to measuring success by how many people are enrolled in a program rather than by how many have moved from poverty into financial independence,” the executive order reads.
The order calls on the Treasury, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, and Education departments to use the next 90 days to submit a report with their recommended policies to the White House.
The order doesn’t yet set any new policy, but it does reflect a hardline conservative view of the nation’s entitlement system — one that welfare experts say relies on faulty arguments and could cut off the nation’s neediest from lifesaving safety net programs.
Trump’s executive order implies tougher requirements for safety net programs
The text of the executive order calls for a review of all welfare programs across agencies, something a senior White House official calls a push for a “coordinated” effort across federal and state agencies to reform the welfare system.
But the result could be recommendations that propose drastic changes to programs like Medicaid, which offers health care for low-income individuals; food stamps; and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which gives poor families financial aid. The administration is also looking at housing programs, the White House official said.
Trump has long called for tougher requirements to receive welfare benefits but hasn’t been specific on what policies he would like to see and which programs he’d like to target. His order is now calling on his administration to iron out the specifics.
The White House is citing faulty evidence that work requirements work
White House adviser Andrew Bremberg told reporters that Trump’s executive order is meant to “highlight the success” of President Bill Clinton’s 1996 reforms to TANF. Those reforms added work requirements to TANF and fundamentally adjusted how the program’s funding worked, giving money to states in a lump sum and allowing the states to allocate their funding as they saw fit. In the early years, Clinton’s TANF reforms were extremely popular.
A misunderstanding of ’90s welfare reform is not the only faulty evidence the White House used when promoting the order signed on Tuesday. In a fact sheet sent to reporters, the White House cites the effectiveness of food stamp work requirements implemented in Kansas and Maine — the case studies often used to promote work requirements.
“Studies conducted after reforms in Maine and Kansas show that individuals who left welfare and went back to work saw their incomes increase, more than doubling on average; this increase more than offset the welfare benefits they lost. Welfare enrollment also dropped by 75 to 90 percent,” the White House said.
But a decrease in welfare enrollment isn’t an indication of much other than the federal government spending less money.
In other words, there is no clear indication that reimposing the three-month time limit reduced poverty levels. While CBPP did find some increase in wages, the slight differences aren’t necessarily because of the policy changes.
The CBPP notes that the economy was getting better in 2014 — the same time those work requirements were put into place.
These safety net programs are the last resort for millions of Americans
Republicans have long demanded reforms to the American welfare system, decrying bloated federal handout programs that they claim disincentives Americans from working. They argue that additional work requirements would encourage more people to get out of the cycle of poverty.
While poverty and welfare experts will point out there’s always room for reforms, the statistics paint a very different picture of how some of these conservative reforms actually play out.
It’s not clear what the Trump administration plans to propose, but they said reforms to SNAP and Medicaid are front and center.