These are exciting times for the American economy with national unemployment below 4 percent and the fastest wage growth in decades, the results of this Republican Congress and the Trump administration’s policies.
Employers need more labor to keep pace with the growth. Americans who have been on the sidelines need to enter the workforce, and House Republicans have a plan to help.
I’m one of the lawmakers negotiating the final version of the 2018 Farm Bill, which sets agriculture policy and regulates food stamps, known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. I’m pushing for part-time work, education or volunteer requirements for able-bodied adults in the program.
I believe that the dignity of a job and the value of a hard day’s work is worth far more to someone than being trapped in an endless cycle of welfare and poverty.
Most Americans would happily give their last bite of food away to a starving child or person in true need. The SNAP reforms passed by the House maintain full benefits for children, pregnant women, mothers of young children, the elderly and people with mental and physical disabilities.
But with labor demands so high, able-bodied adults need to work. Consider that in 2000 when unemployment was 4.1 percent, only 17 million Americans received SNAP. Today, 39 million Americans are in the program.
SNAP should be available to vulnerable populations and those who have fallen on hard times. It was never meant to be a handout that continues indefinitely.
Yet, that’s what’s happening in Louisiana. The state just applied for — and obtained — waivers for each of our 64 parishes to ignore the time limits on how long an able-bodied adult can receive SNAP.
Something’s got to give.
What I support is simple: Able-bodied adults aged 18-59 without a disability or young children would have to work, enroll in school or a job training program, or volunteer for just 20 hours a week to remain eligible. In our bill, anyone who wants job training will get it.
Adults who choose not to participate would give up their benefits, and those resources would instead go toward providing better care for vulnerable populations, like children, the elderly and the disabled. We also maintain waivers for people living in severely economically depressed areas where opportunity is scarce.
In an era of sharp political divisions, this proposal enjoys overwhelming bipartisan support. Between 87 and 90 percent of Americans support the very reforms I’m trying to pass in Congress, according to two polls by the American Enterprise Institute/LA Times and the Foundation for Government Accountability.
To pass these reasonable SNAP reforms the American people are demanding, we need willing state partners to call on Democrats in Congress to end their opposition, yet it is unclear where the state government stands.
On the one hand, Gov. John Bel Edwards claims to support similar work requirements for Medicaid recipients. On the other, his party and political action committee have attacked me for pushing these reforms. Additionally, Edwards struck a deal with President Obama’s administration to auto-enroll about 105,000 people into Medicaid expansion, making Louisiana the first state in the nation to use SNAP data for initial Medicaid enrollment.
The people of Louisiana deserve to know whether Edwards agrees with me that an able-bodied adult should be working, or does the governor stand with his party and PAC in blocking these sensible reforms favored by a majority of Americans?
I define success by how many people get the experience and training to stand on their own two feet, not by how many people we can enroll into government programs. And I believe these work requirements for SNAP are a good start to breaking the cycle of poverty.
U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-Alto, is a physician who represents the 5th District of Louisiana.