Pro-dependency advocates miss the mark in attacking Kansas welfare reform

Pro-dependency advocates miss the mark in attacking Kansas welfare reform
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The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has a pair of new reports out attacking Kansas’ successful welfare reforms. Following these reforms, thousands of able-bodied adults moved from welfare to work, finding jobs in more than 600 different industries and more than doubling their incomes within just a year.

The group claims it reviewed administrative data from Kansas — data CBPP admits it “adjusted” in various ways — but its results are wrong. How do I know? Because I worked with the state to secure the raw data in the first place.

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In 2011, the Brownback administration strengthened sanctions for able-bodied adults who refused to comply with work requirements in the TANF cash assistance program. These reforms undid much of the damage caused by then-Governor Kathleen SebeliusKathleen SebeliusOvercoming health-care challenges by moving from volume to value Mr. President, let markets help save Medicare IRS Tax Day glitch exposes antiquated tech infrastructure MORE, who would go on to push for massive welfare expansions in the Obama administration.

 

Since these reforms took effect, compliance with work requirements has climbed from historic lows and the percentage of able-bodied adults on the program who are employed has risen. While these positive changes were underway in Kansas, the opposite trends were occurring both nationally and in the region, with fewer able-bodied adults on welfare working.

The Foundation for Government Accountability worked with Kansas to track what happened to families’ earnings after being removed from the cash assistance program for refusing to comply with work requirements. This tracking included looking at longitudinal data on employment, wages, benefits, and other factors both before and after the new sanctions. We tracked each and every individual and family removed between December 2011 and March 2015 for refusing to meet the state’s commonsense work requirement. We tracked these families for at least a year and up to four years for some, depending on data availability.

The numbers presented in the CBPP reports simply aren’t accurate. The group claims, for example, that wages for those who have been off the program at least 4 years went up by “only” 39 percent in the first year and 119 percent in the four years after case closure. Setting aside the fact that a doubling of income is most assuredly a good thing, the reality is that incomes went up far more than claimed. In the quarter before being removed from the program, these families earned just $650,000 in wages. Within a year of leaving the program, those quarterly wages had reached $1.6 million — an increase of 137 percent. Within four years, they reached $2.3 million — an increase of 247 percent.

A similar pattern emerged in those families with less available data who had been off the program for less time. Among the entire group of roughly 6,000 families tracked by the state, quarterly wages more than doubled in that first year — from $4.9 million in wages in the quarter prior to removal to $9.9 million in wages four quarters after removal. These families include those finding work in skilled nursing facilities, aircraft manufacturing, commercial bakeries, and more.

The Kansas results show a clear trend: higher earnings and less dependency after leaving welfare. In fact, higher earnings more than offset lost welfare benefits, leaving these families financially better off. While there remains more work to be done to ensure as many families as possible move back onto the path of self-sufficiency through employment, Kansas has made incredible progress in just a few short years. The Kansas results show that making work a central focus is desperately needed for all welfare programs and should serve as a signal to lawmakers across the country of the importance of work. Bogus claims by pro-dependency advocacy groups can’t change reality: moving able-bodied adults from welfare to work changes lives for the better.

Jonathan Ingram (@IngramLaw) is vice president of research at the Foundation for Government Accountability (@TheFGA), a non-profit research organization dedicated to replacing failed health and welfare programs nationwide.