Opinion: Food stamp recipients must work

Phil Pavlov

Welfare reforms that move able-bodied individuals from welfare to work are desperately needed in our state and across the nation. Despite near-record low unemployment rates and a strong economy, millions of able-bodied adults are enrolled in welfare programs like food stamps.

The vast majority of these individuals are not working and are ultimately missing out on the dignity and freedom that comes from work. Not to mention, this massive enrollment also threatens benefits for the truly needy and has created a culture of government dependency that cannot—and should not—be sustained.

Michigan residents deserve better, and that’s why I’m calling on our federal elected officials to support strong work requirements for able-bodied adults on food stamps in the 2018 Farm Bill.

The House of Representative’s proposed Farm Bill would expand work requirements—a condition that requires able-bodied adults to work, train, or volunteer part-time to receive welfare—to more able-bodied adults on food stamps. This is a cornerstone of our country’s welfare system, and a notion that is supported by 83 percent of voters across the country. It’s a reform that’s supported right here in Michigan, which is why I’ve pushed for the same commonsense requirement for able-bodied adults on Medicaid in the state Legislature.

I’ve supported work requirements—and our federal officials should, too—because quite simply, they work. When Kansas implemented similar work requirements for able-bodied adults on food stamps, individuals leaving the program found work in over 600 different industries and their incomes more than doubled, on average. Lost benefits were more than offset by earnings from new jobs, and resources were preserved for the truly needy.

Nearly 700,000 able-bodied Michiganians are currently dependent on food stamps. These individuals are fully capable of work, but without a requirement to do so, 66 percent are not working. State and federal loopholes have exacerbated the problem: currently, just 25 percent of able-bodied Michiganians subject to work requirements actually working. With a statewide unemployment rate below five percent, now is the time to move these folks back to the workforce.

The reforms being debated in Congress include limiting exemptions from work requirements and expanding work requirements to more able-bodied adults on food stamps—including adults with school-age children—while continuing exemptions for the elderly, those with disabilities, pregnant women, and other truly needy populations. These reforms mirror similar reforms the Michigan Legislature just passed, and Gov. Snyder signed into law, in our state’s Medicaid program.

They’re proven, effective reforms, and we now have the opportunity to ensure that all Americans have the opportunity to benefit from them. Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow serves as ranking member of the powerful Senate Agriculture Committee, whose reach includes the Farm Bill and robust food stamp program. Stabenow is perfectly positioned to promote work as the solution to government dependency, but instead of supporting a better future for Michiganians stuck on food stamps, she has opposed the House Farm Bill, and with it, opposed measures that her constituents in Michigan support.

Over 420,000 able-bodied Michiganians would experience the power of work as a result of the reforms included in the House Farm Bill. Opposing the bill and leaving them stuck in government dependency when we know a better future awaits them through work is unacceptable.

Sen. Phil Pavlov, R-St. Clair Township, chairs the Senate Education Committee and represents Michigan’s 25th Senate District.