Trump Welfare Reform Seeks to Strengthen Work Requirements

‘A welcome development that will lead to greater economic prosperity for families who need it most…’

Trump Welfare Reform Seeks to Strengthen Work Requirements

Stacy Washington/IMAGE: YouTube

(Quin Hillyer, Liberty Headlines) Conservatives are thrilled that President Trump this week announced moves to push reforms to welfare-related programs, although the reach of Trump’s executive actions is relatively narrow unless Congress acts as well.

The substance of Trump’s executive order is directly from the longstanding conservative playbook, aiming to build on the successful national welfare reform law passed in 1996.

The White House’s title for the order – Reducing Poverty in America by Promoting Opportunity and Economic Mobility – aptly captures the goals of the initiative.

“With the disconnect of record low unemployment and still too many people on government assistance, this is a welcome development that will lead to greater economic prosperity for families who need it most,” said Stacy Washington, co-chair of the Project 21 black leadership network.


Mimi Teixeira and Robert Rector of the conservative Heritage Foundation says the order will “promote work and strengthen marriage.”

And Kristina Rasmussen of the Foundation for Government Accountability lauded the president for adopting “tactic that we’ve seen succeed in states across the nation.”

Of course, liberals at Vox magazine and elsewhere try to muddy the waters by claiming that even the much-praised 1996 reforms didn’t actually work, and that Trump’s moves also won’t help matters.

The substance of Trump’s order directs the secretaries of eight Cabinet departments to review all the laws pertaining to welfare-related/public assistance programs.

Their aim is to see if those laws allow the departments the discretion to promote nine specific principles of reform and strengthen current work requirements for welfare eligibility.

Among those specific principles are ones to “promote marriage and family as a way of escaping poverty,” to “consolidate duplicative programs,” and to “empower the private sector to find solutions to poverty.”

The work requirements are key.

As the White House reported, “After Kansas implemented work requirements for able-bodied, childless adults on food stamps, caseloads dropped by 75 percent and the average amount of time spent on welfare was cut in half. In addition, thousands of people went back to work in more than 600 industries.”

And: “Maine re-instated work requirements for able-bodied adults with no kids in 2014 and saw individuals’ incomes increase 114 percent in one year.”

In effect, what this order does is to ask departments, where allowed by law, to emphasize the same principles that worked in the 1996 reform of the main “welfare” program, then known as Aid to Families with Dependent Children.

After that reform, welfare rolls dropped fairly quickly by about 50 percent, and eventually by 75 percent, and poverty rates declined significantly, as taxpayers saved hundreds of billions of dollars in a 20-year period.

Voxclaims that the 1996 program “no longer works,” but that’s because “states stopped using the money” as originally intended.

Even the left-leaning Brookings Institution, in its ten-year report card on the 1996 law, acknowledged, quite simply, that “it worked.”

Significantly, Brookings concluded (in just one of its measures of success), that “by 2000, the poverty rate of black children was the lowest it had ever been.”

Yet, even though AFDC was the main program usually referred to as “welfare,” it was only one of more than 80 related federal anti-poverty efforts.

Many of those others, including the food stamp program that exploded in size (by 57 percent!) by adding 16 million more people under Barack Obama, do not include the pro-work and pro-marriage provisions applied in 1996 to what had been AFDC.

Conservatives long have wanted to apply these provisions more broadly, and (as reported at Liberty Headlines) the House last year included work requirements for Medicaid recipients in their Obamacare-replacement bill that eventually was killed by the Senate.

Unlike a bill passed by Congress and signed into law by a president, an executive order, like Trump’s order this week, does not actually change the law to broadly impose new requirements.

But it does make agency heads and bureaucrats look for authority within existing law to emphasize work requirements, pro-marriage or pro-family initiatives, or other policies in line with the principles Trump outlined. (It also orders them to remove Obama-era “waivers” that allowed states to dodge work requirements that otherwise would have applied.)

Rasmussen (of the Foundation for Government Accountability) said that even without Congress passing a new law, Trump’s order has the potential of “filling millions of open jobs and creating billions of dollars in federal and state budget savings.”