About two years ago, the Trump administration, through the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, announced new guidelines that allowed states to impose work requirements for able-bodied persons to receive Medicaid. Now it has strengthened work requirements for the food-stamp program.
Predictably, just as two years ago, Democrats and liberals are outraged.
The federal food-stamp program (officially called SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) is administered by the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, but is operated by the 50 states. Recipients of SNAP benefits receive a deposit on an EBT card each month that can be used only for prepackaged food items; that is, no alcohol, tobacco, dog food, et cetera. Food-stamp benefits differ by state. There is no limit to how long one can receive benefits as long as there are children in the household, subject to renewal every six months. According to the FNS, during fiscal year 2019, 34,469,763 persons and 17,371,702 households participated in the food-stamp program. The average monthly benefit was $129.97 per person and $246.84 per household, with a cost to taxpayers of $58,287,859,738.
Those affected by the proposed changes to SNAP are known as able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs). These are people from age 18 to 50 who are able to work, are not disabled, and don’t have dependents. There are somewhere between 3 and 4 million adults in this category, the majority of whom do not work. Under the strengthened work-requirements rule, most of those who have received SNAP benefits for more than three months would be required to get a job, undertake job training, perform community service, or at least look for a job. The final rule is to take effect on April 1.
The ranking member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), criticized the new rule: “There’s a reason Republicans and Democrats overwhelmingly rejected this callous proposal in the Farm Bill and instead focused on bipartisan job-training opportunities that actually help families find good paying jobs.”
The president of the Food Research & Action Center, James D. Weill, claimed that the final rule would “cause serious harm to individuals, communities, and the nation while doing nothing to improve the health and employment of those impacted by the rule” and “harm the economy, grocery retailers, agricultural producers, and communities by reducing the amount of SNAP dollars available to spur local economic activity.”
Progressives believe that access to nutritious food is a fundamental human right — just like health care, affordable housing, and a good education — that the government should guarantee.
But just as predictably, Republicans and conservatives are defending the strengthened work requirements.
Said Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in a press release,
Americans are generous people who believe it is their responsibility to help their fellow citizens when they encounter a difficult stretch. Government can be a powerful force for good, but government dependency has never been the American dream. We need to encourage people by giving them a helping hand but not allowing it to become an indefinitely giving hand. Now, in the midst of the strongest economy in a generation, we need everyone who can work, to work. This rule lays the groundwork for the expectation that able-bodied Americans re-enter the workforce where there are currently more job openings than people to fill them.
Two writers (Robert Rector and Jamie Hall) for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, defended strengthening the work requirements in “The Truth about the New Food Stamp Work Requirements’ Effects.”
Although they correctly point out that the reform of the food-stamp program is “quite modest,” that “not a single individual will lose benefits if they perform the pro-work activities required by the program,” and that “the administration’s rule represents a positive nudge toward employment for work-capable adults who are currently unemployed and receiving aid,” they never get around to telling the truth about food stamps.
SNAP is a welfare program just like Medicaid; the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP); Women, Infants, and Children (WIC); Section 8 housing vouchers; Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF); Supplemental Security Income (SSI); the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP); and refundable tax credits such as the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). That SNAP provides food assistance does not make it any different.
Providing welfare is an illegitimate and immoral function of government. It is illegitimate because the purpose of government is to protect life, liberty, and property and the proper role of government to keep the peace and punish those who violate the personal or property rights of others. It is immoral because it forces some Americans to provide charity to other Americans after filtering their money through the hands of an army of bureaucrats.
Although the government should abolish welfare, in the meantime, anything it does to reduce the amount of welfare benefits, reduce the number of people eligible for welfare, or reduce the duration of benefits is a good thing no matter why the government does it. That would have to include strengthening welfare work requirements.
No one has the right to receive welfare benefits from the government or charity from individuals or organizations no matter how poor, sick, indigent, disadvantaged, hungry, needy, underprivileged, destitute, or desperate he is. All charity should be private and voluntary.
So conservatives are certainly correct when they defend the strengthening of work requirements to receive food stamps or any other form of welfare. They undermine their case, however, when in the course of doing so they justify the legitimacy of welfare.
Consider the aforementioned Heritage Foundation article by Rector and Hall:
Welfare should be based on reciprocal obligations between society and recipients, rather than a one-way handout from taxpayers to recipients.
Clearly, a lot needs to be done to transform the current welfare system into a more benign system that provides ample aid to those who need it, while at the same time promoting the positive behaviors of work and marriage.
Such a reformed system would not only be more efficient in raising overall income, it would also be more humane, because work and marriage provide intrinsic psychological and social rewards well beyond their immediate economic impacts.
Forced charity is not based on reciprocal obligations between society and recipients. And what is welfare other than a one-way handout from taxpayers to recipients?
The current welfare system doesn’t need to be transformed into a more benign system, it doesn’t need to provide ample aid to those who need it, and it doesn’t need to promote work and marriage. It needs to be transformed into a private system that voluntarily provides aid and promotes work and marriage.
Welfare doesn’t need to be reformed, made more efficient, or made more humane. It needs to be abolished.
Why don’t conservatives tell the truth about food stamps? They have no philosophical objection to the federal government’s forcing Americans to be charitable. Why don’t conservatives tell the truth about welfare? They are welfare statists just like liberals.