Great Again: Trump Budget Requires Work for Food Stamps

President's plan expects able-bodied adults without children to earn eligibility for SNAP benefits

by Margaret Menge | Updated 25 May 2017 at 6:51 AM

It’s time for America to get up off the couch, at least according to President Donald Trump and his budget team.

The president is proposing the most ambitious welfare reform since the 1990s, focusing on requiring able-bodied adults who don’t have children to work in order to receive food stamps.

“He’s really getting back to real reform.”

The work requirement in the president’s 2018 budget will save a whopping $190 billion over the next ten years, according to the Office of Management and Budget, and is part of a larger plan to reform welfare in America.

“We must reform our welfare system so that it does not discourage able-bodied adults from working, which takes away scarce resources from those in real need. Work must be the center of our social policy,” the president wrote in his letter to Congress accompanying his proposed budget.

His budget director, Mick Mulvaney, made clear at a press conference this week that people need to get a job to be eligible for food stamps going forward, saying: “If you’re on food stamps and you’re able-bodied, then we need you to go to work.”

The food stamp program has ballooned in recent years, with 50 million Americans now on food stamps and using Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) cards at the grocery or convenience store to buy food and drinks. That’s about 15 percent of the population, and it’s a dramatic increase from the 17 million Americans who were on food stamps in 2000.

The total cost of the food stamp program, officially called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), is now more than $83 billion a year. Almost all of it is funded by the federal government.

And in what may be a shock to most Americans, the government doesn’t know what that money is spent on — what percentage of it is spent on meat, what percent on vegetables, what percent on soda, on candy, on potato chips.

In a 2011 study involving one unnamed grocery store chain, it was found that food stamp recipients spent more money on soda than on any other item.

Robert Rector, a welfare reform expert at The Heritage Foundation, says that in returning to the work requirement — the “core” of welfare reform in the 1990s — President Trump is “picking the gauntlet off the ground where the Republican Party dropped it.”

“He’s really getting back to real reform,” he told LifeZette.

Trump’s proposal would require states, which administer the SNAP program, to come up with one dollar for every four dollars the federal government spends on it.

The federal government now pays for all food-stamp benefits, money that is sent to the states.

“It’s like Chinese funeral money,” says Rector. “They just burn it.”

The work requirement mirrors what the state of Maine did, with remarkable results.

There are, technically, state work requirements for food stamps. But the Obama administration granted states waivers during the recession, and most remain in place.

In 2014, Maine decided to drop its waiver request, and require everyone who could work, and who didn’t have children to take care of, to either get a job working at least 20 hours a week, enter a job-training program, or volunteer a minimum of 24 hours a month.

In December of 2014, when the change went into effect, there were 13,332 able-bodied non-elderly people in the state without dependents who were collecting food stamps. By March 2015, this number fell by 80 percent. Only 2,678 of those people decided to comply with the law and get a job, do job training, or volunteer. More than 9,000 people just dropped out of the program, leading some observers to speculate that many of these people had been working off the books for years and using food stamps to pay for food so they could save their money for other things.

Others speculated that government dependence had become so ingrained that the minimum required — volunteering 24 hours a month, equivalent to just one hour a day of work — was too much for them.

It is estimated that there are 4.7 million Americans nationwide receiving food stamps who are able-bodied, not elderly, and do not have dependents. Getting them off the food-stamp rolls would save the country an estimated $8.4 billion every year.

"We are no longer going to measure compassion by the number of people on these programs," said Mulvaney on Monday, "We're going to measure compassion by how many people we can get off these programs."

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