President TrumpDonald TrumpDeputy AG: DOJ investigating fake Trump electors Former Boston Red Sox star David Ortiz elected to Baseball Hall of Fame Overnight Health Care — Senators unveil pandemic prep overhaul MORE is trying to move able-bodied adults without dependents on food stamps back to work, but Democrats in Congress have other ideas. A proposed Democratic amendment to a budget bill is directly aimed at stopping a new USDA rule that would close loopholes that allow millions of able-bodied adults on food stamps to avoid working or volunteering in order to receive benefits.
The food stamp program needs reform: one-third of the country still lives in an area where able-bodied adults without dependents are waived from food stamp work requirements. According to new research, nearly 2.6 million of these adults will be waived from work requirements—just this year. So why are Democrats so intent on keeping millions away from the positive benefits of work?
Loopholes exploited by Clinton and Obama regulations have allowed—and even encouraged—states to use old unemployment data or gerrymander areas in order to waive work requirements in as many jurisdictions as possible. Some states, like Illinois and California, combine all but one or two counties into one waived area, even though many waived jurisdictions do not independently qualify. One California county where work is waived has just 2.2 percent unemployment.
And while the abuse is (predictably) worse in blue states, other states—like Georgia—continue to waive these requirements, despite low unemployment rates. There are still 7.6 million available jobs across the country. Employers are desperate for more workers, going so far as using company cars and hiring parties to attract workers.
The waivers are so out-of-control that out of the over 1,100 waived jurisdictions in January 2019, only 23 had unemployment rates over 10 percent, the level required by federal statute. Nearly 1,000 had unemployment rates under 6 percent—a level that’s objectively low, no matter what side of the political aisle you’re on.
The good news is that after years of bureaucrats expanding these loopholes, the Trump administration is looking to crack down on them. USDA, which oversees food stamps, proposed a rule that would close these loopholes—restoring Congress’ intent when it first established the work requirement and giving Americans the boost they need to move from welfare to work. But Democrats in Congress are trying to keep the loopholes in place, using a budget gimmick to try and keep the anti-work loopholes intact so California and other states can keep millions dependent on food stamps.
USDA shouldn’t let this misguided attempt to trap millions in dependency deter its efforts to promote work. It’s not just within USDA’s legal authority to rein in this waiver abuse—it’s the agency’s duty. Our government leaders need to be doing as much as possible to help people take advantage of the booming economy, and that’s what this rule looks to do.
Waivers from work should be limited to areas where there are not enough jobs within commuting distance—they shouldn’t be handed out in areas with objectively-low unemployment, and they shouldn’t be used as a way to keep as many people out of work as possible.
There’s no questioning that the economy under the Trump administration is as good as its been in decades. But to take it from good to great, we need more workers. And to accomplish that, we need states to make work a priority. USDA can help make that a reality by reining in these waivers gone wild and signaling to Americans that it’s time to get to work.
Sam Adolphsen is the policy director at the Foundation for Government Accountability.