Work Requirements Don’t Actually Work
Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro and Rep. Linda T. Sánchez
Under the guise of “promoting work” and “reform,” the Trump administration and congressional Republicans are seeking radical changes to the way we fight poverty in America.
Let us not be fooled, Republican proposals that tie strict so-called work requirements to anti-poverty programs are designed to make it harder for people to access basic services such as health care, nutrition and housing.
For years, Republicans have touted work requirements as a way to lift individuals out of poverty — as if to say Americans who are struggling to get ahead are lazy and choose not to work.
This misconception is demeaning and offensive, and has been proved wrong by the evidence.
The reality is that most low-income families who receive assistance are already subject to work-related requirements, and most of these beneficiaries who can work, already do work. For example, research shows nearly three-quarters of adult beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, work within a year of participating in the program.
Moreover, a growing body of social science research shows that work requirements do nothing to reduce poverty.
A recent analysis of the mandatory work requirements in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, program, created through the 1996 welfare reform, shows that the program set people up to fail. There was no meaningful increase in people becoming employed due to the requirements. Instead, most TANF recipients subject to work requirements never reached self-sufficiency. To add insult to injury, most remained in poverty or — worse yet — many became even poorer.
Work requirements do not work because they do nothing to address the underlying economic inequality that affects millions of Americans. Tying the receipt of such basic necessities as food and shelter to arbitrary work indicators does not help individuals get back to work, nor does it grow their paychecks.
America has always been a land of opportunity, and we have a long history of bipartisan efforts dedicated to helping those in need. Poverty should not be a partisan issue. Bad luck does not care if you are a Republican or Democrat.
Every hard-working family should be able to rest assured knowing that, if they fall on hard times, temporary assistance will help keep them from going over the cliff. For decades, our social safety net programs have helped millions of such families get back on their feet.
Democrats believe in the dignity of work. But perhaps more importantly, we believe in providing those who are down on their luck with the support they need to get back on their feet. This includes access to quality child care so they can go to work; access to affordable transportation so they can get to work; and apprenticeships and training programs that help workers compete for better-paying jobs. And we believe in providing food support so that children and adults can have a healthy breakfast so they can be productive at school and at work.
Democrats believe that by providing assistance to families who are struggling to get ahead, we can help move them out of poverty and into the middle class. Ripping away basic essentials only makes it more challenging to successfully make this transition.
At a time when Republicans just passed a $2 trillion tax scam — of which 83 percent of the benefits went to the top 1 percent — we should be working every single day to help those who are struggling to make ends meet. The American people would be far better served if President Donald Trump and congressional Republicans joined with Democrats as we focus on economic policies that will create jobs and raise wages, instead of blaming people for needing a helping hand.
Simply put, the conservatives’ work requirements do not work for low-income families in need. They only make life harder for people already struggling to get back on their feet.
Rep. Rosa DeLauro is a Democrat representing Connecticut’s 3rd District. She is the ranking member of the Labor, Health and Human Services, Education, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee.
Rep. Linda T. Sánchez is a Democrat representing California’s 38th District. She is the vice chairwoman of the House Democratic Caucus and a member of the Ways and Means Committee.