In January 2018, the burgeoning economy received a jolt of energy from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act—legislation that lowered the tax rate for millions of Americans and small businesses. Now, more than a year later, we can clearly see the results: a rock solid economy, high consumer confidence, a strong jobs market and a near record low unemployment rate. In fact, recent numbers show that there are more than seven million job openings just waiting to be filled.
Although this is a good problem to have compared to the alternative, having unfilled jobs is still a problem nonetheless. If, for example, small businesses, such as my own, are having difficulties hiring workers, growth can be slowed and future economic expansion bridled.
That’s where the Jobs and Opportunity with Benefits and Services (JOBS) for Success Act comes into play. Introduced last month by Rep. Kevin Brady and Sen. Steve Daines, this piece of legislation aims to strengthen one of the country’s nearly one-hundred federal welfare programs—the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) initiative. This is one of the few federal welfare programs that has work requirements designed to help recipients.
After President Bill Clinton initially signed TANF into law, the benefits of incentivizing work were evident. More single mothers entered the workforce and child poverty decreased.
However, TANF is not perfect—some issues still need to be ironed out.
For most able-bodied adults, welfare programs should not merely be about making poverty easier to bear, but should instead help people leave poverty behind for good. As the timeless “teach a man to fish” parable instructs us, encouraging employment and helping others transition into a job opportunity with stable income is of paramount importance.
Right now, TANF’s work requirements only apply to half the adult beneficiaries in the program—with states being allowed to reduce that ratio even further. More specifically, since the law was enacted, 20 states have eliminated the requirement altogether, so recipients get all the benefits but don’t have to comply with the stipulations for work or training. Passing the JOBS for Success Act would change that.
One of the adjustments would be to ensure that TANF recipients who can’t find work would still receive the benefits, with the stipulation that the recipient would participate in one of the programs designed to foster self-support. For people under twenty years old, this could include pursuing a high school degree; for people a little older, activities could include vocational education, a supervised job search, and any job-skills training directly related to employment.
That is, the JOBS for Success Act would orient the TANF program back to its original charter of promoting employment and encouraging Americans to attain a successful career.
Some critics of work requirements often say that it’s unethical to deny welfare to people who cannot find employment. Thankfully, regardless of employment status, the JOBS for Success Act would not cut benefits to anyone who continued their professional development. Instead, the focus would be on helping recipients find employment and escape poverty.
Currently, TANF authorization is set to expire at the end of June, meaning that now is the perfect time for our lawmakers to start discussing ways to bolster and improve the program. Passing the JOBS for Success Act would put higher expectations on states and help countless recipients escape the poverty trap with the skills they need to find and keep employment.
Welfare reform will not come overnight and this change to one of the nation’s many federal welfare programs is a step forward that encourages people to reach their full potential. The JOBS for Success Act serves as a model for future reform by tackling poverty and filling job opportunities in communities across the country. That’s something all Americans should support.