Is It Mean Spirited to Cut Food Stamps?

In yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, columnist William Galston writes “In Defense of Food Stamps” that “food stamps reach their intended targets, poor and near-poor Americans. The large increase in the program’s cost over the past decade mostly reflects worsening economic conditions rather than looser eligibility standards.  Since 2000 the number of individuals in poverty has risen to 46.5 million from 31.6 million.”
Mr. Galston also states that “the number of able-bodied adults without dependents receiving benefits under the food stamp program has risen to nearly 5.5 million from under 2 million since 2008 even as work requirements for those individuals have been relaxed.  Here the critics have a case: the federal government should reconsider the waivers of current requirements it has extended to 44 states and the District of Columbia and it should consider toughening those standards.”
Congressional Republicans have proposed cutting $40 billion from the food stamp program over 10 years, or $4 billion per year.  Since the total food stamp budget is $80 billion per year, this amounts to a 5% cut.  And this 5% cut is directed precisely at those 5.5 million able-bodied adults without dependents.  Expecting these people to find a job, even if minimum wage, in return for receiving food stamps, is not asking too much.  It is really just “tough love” more than anything else.
Putting a substantial portion of these 5.5 million able bodied adults back to work would also be a big boost to the economy.  One of the biggest drags on the economy at the present time is the low labor participation rate which has dropped from about 66% to 63% since the recession began in 2008-2009.
Trying to make the food stamp program more cost effective is really just an example of what should be done across all programs of the federal government, routinely, as a matter of sound operating procedures.  It is unfortunate that ideology and political partisanship get in the way of such common sense!

Are Welfare Benefits Too High?

The CATO Institute has just released a new study “The Work Versus Welfare
Trade-Off: 2013”, which analyzes the total level of welfare benefits on a state by state basis.  The authors, Michael Tanner and Charles Hughes, show that welfare pays more than a minimum-wage job in 35 states and, moreover, in 13 states, it pays more than $15 per hour. The authors recommend that Congress and state legislatures strengthen welfare work requirements, remove exemptions from working and narrow the definition of work.  Also many states should consider shrinking the large gap between the value of welfare and work by reducing current benefit levels and tightening eligibility requirements.
Clearly welfare benefits as well as disability payments, through the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program of Social Security, have grown too large and have become a disincentive for many people to find a job.  Getting something for nothing is a moral hazard which induces an attitude of entitlement and helplessness.  It also causes the labor force participation rate to shrink and therefore hurts the economy.
Tightening up welfare payments and disability income are among the many actions
which Congress could take to speed up economic growth and lower government
spending.  We need more representatives in Washington who understand that change is needed and who can advocate effectively for policies which will get this done!

Should Welfare Recipients Be Required to Work?


On June 18, 2013, Lawrence Mead, Department of Politics and Public Policy, New York University, testified before Congress, “Making Welfare Work”, that even as the number of Americans receiving welfare has dramatically increased in recent years, welfare programs are failing to provide sufficiently strong incentives for the recipients to find work.  This has contributed to the fact that “the share of our population that is employed has recently fallen sharply compared to several European countries” such as Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.
Mr. Mead shows that there are three main reasons for this: “(1) work tests in the major income programs are still limited, (2) we have neglected the problem of poor men, and (3) the disability programs are diverting too many Americans from the work force entirely”.  He points out that the Welfare Reform Act of 1996 required that the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program put 50% of their cases in rigorous “work activities” by 2002.  This led to a dramatic reduction of the AFDC/TANF rolls by more than two-thirds. But since then exemptions and waivers have sharply limited the specific work activity demands which mobilized welfare recipients to hold jobs.
Even with the currently high unemployment rate, there are plenty of low-paid, low-skilled jobs available, which are suitable for welfare recipients.  After all, even a low-paid job may well provide the opportunity to learn skills as well as to develop better work habits. Congress clearly needs to strengthen work requirements for welfare.  And the incentives need to be right so that these workers keep more pay than they give up in benefits.
Putting more welfare recipients back to work will not only help control the federal budget but also give our economy a boost by increasing the size of the workforce!