The American Dream, that anyone who works hard enough can create a good life for themselves and their families, is part of our nation’s DNA. Our parents and grandparents believed in it—many of them lived it. Our Founding Fathers believed the pursuit of happiness was an inalienable right, and the opportunity to find self-made success inspired millions to risk it all and join the American experiment. Since our nation’s earliest days, America has promised opportunity—opportunity through work.
But somewhere along the way, things changed. For the past two decades, the number of work-capable adults trapped on welfare increased dramatically. In the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), frequently referred to as food stamps, the majority of work-capable adults enrolled reported no income, despite the strong economy. Tragically, instead of families creating their own American Dream, they’ve remained trapped in dependency.
But the recently-released 2018 House Farm Bill changes that by refocusing our welfare system and promoting opportunity. By emphasizing work for work-capable Americans, eliminating program fraud and abuse, and preserving resources for the truly needy in SNAP, the 2018 Farm Bill is a recommitment to the American worker and the American opportunity that has inspired millions here and across the globe.
It’s no secret that work promotes prosperity. Work provides self-sufficiency and is the key to achieving the American Dream. But inadequate work requirements for SNAP recipients have left millions of work-capable Americans trapped in a cycle of dependency, despite a strong economy and a record number of available jobs. The very program intended to be a temporary support for those who needed help getting on their feet has been stripped of its power to do so by excessive state waivers for work requirements and policies that discourage work for most work-capable adults on the program.
It shouldn’t be this way—and the American people agree. A recent poll found that 83 percent of all voters support work requirements for work-capable adults on SNAP, and the Farm Bill answers that call. Building on the bipartisan welfare reform of 1996, the Farm Bill makes work, work training, or work search mandatory for work-capable adults, with exceptions for the elderly, individuals with disabilities, caregivers of children under the age of six, and pregnant moms.
It’s a commonsense reform that we’ve seen implemented—with success—in states across the nation. After new work requirements were implemented in Kansas, work-capable adults who left welfare went back to work in more than 600 different industries and their incomes more than doubled on average. They learned that work—not government—pays. This is the type of opportunity that all Americans deserve.
More importantly, a work, training, or volunteer requirement has been shown to reduce the time on welfare in half and quickly help people leave welfare and become self-sufficient. Think about this: 97 percent of people who work full-time are not in poverty. Shouldn’t SNAP do everything possible to support work to help people achieve their own American Dream?
Our nation needs SNAP to empower all who are able to lift themselves out of dependency. And by moving work-capable adults back to work quickly and effectively, the proposal guarantees that SNAP will be returned to its original intent: a safety net for the truly needy.
The 2018 House Farm Bill makes good on that commitment by closing loopholes that have been exploited at the expense of the truly needy. By targeting fraud and abuse in the system and ensuring program integrity, we can be confident that hard-earned American tax dollars are supporting a sustainable program that helps our most vulnerable neighbors.
This proposal is the remedy to a runaway food stamp program and a new hope for millions of work-capable adults trapped in dependency. With six million open jobs across the country and record low unemployment in many states, there is no better time to reform food stamps and support work and opportunity. The American Dream is still attainable for those willing to work for it—we just need to give them the hand up they desperately need.
Editor's note: This piece was co-authored by Tarren Bragdon, the CEO and president of the Foundation for Government Accountability.