Getting Nebraskans back in the game

With a name like the “Farm Bill” and sections related to crop insurance, trade, and animal vaccines, it’s easy to see how the 2018 Farm Bill is important to an agriculture powerhouse like Nebraska. But beyond agriculture, the bill holds the key to unlocking our greatest resource in Nebraska: its people. That’s why it’s so important that Congress pass the Farm Bill on June 22 when there’s a second chance to do so.

Despite a near record-low unemployment rate of 2.8 percent, there are still jobs that need to be filled. I have heard from employers in Nebraska’s 2nd District, which encompasses Omaha and surrounding areas, that they are having trouble filling jobs. This is an opportunity for our SNAP recipients to fill instead of sitting on the sidelines as the economy has grown stronger—a fact that is particularly concerning given that Nebraska has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the nation.

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How is this happening?

Existing welfare policies that are meant to lift folks out of government dependency and back into work aren’t doing enough. And Nebraska isn’t the only state facing this problem. Nebraska—and the nation as whole—needs a food stamp program that helps folks regain self-sufficiency and find dignity through work, not one that stops them from cutting the government’s apron strings.

The Farm Bill addresses this need head-on by expanding work requirements to more able-bodied adults and closing loopholes that have allowed states to bypass them altogether. Under the Farm Bill, work requirements—a minimum of 20 hours of work or job training to receive benefits—are expanded to more able-bodied adults. Seniors, individuals with disabilities, poor children, and pregnant mothers are exempt from work requirements; even one parent is exempt if they are caring for a child under the age of six. Work requirements only apply to those fully capable of work, but who aren’t working now.

We can look to Kansas for a preview of how these reforms will empower Nebraskans. When Kansas implemented work requirements for some able-bodied adults on food stamps, those who cycled off the program went back to work in more than 600 different industries and their incomes more than doubled on average. As a result, those leaving welfare were better off and more taxpayer-funded resources were saved for the truly needy.

We don’t have to go far to see how lives are changed when welfare programs are designed to move people out of dependency and back to work. Right here in Nebraska, citizens are benefiting from programs like Connect, which help unemployed and underemployed able-bodied adults get the training they need to find employment and self-sufficiency. Gov. Pete Ricketts’ efforts to focus welfare programs on reemployment has had tremendous success, and thanks to these reforms, individuals like David Dugger have moved from homelessness into full-time employment in Nebraska’s growing technology sector.

The Farm Bill builds on the power of work and strengthens training opportunities like those in Nebraska. And there’s no shortage of jobs—according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more open jobs today than at any point since the agency began tracking it. Nearly three-quarters of the job openings that will occur over the next decade are expected to require a high school education or less. Nearly four out of five job openings require no training or less than a month’s training on-the-job, while 87 percent require no prior experience. With employers desperate to fill open jobs, there’s never been a better time to move those currently on the sidelines from welfare to work.

Farmers and ranchers aren’t the only ones depending on the policies and reforms in the 2018 House Farm Bill. In May, Congress failed to pass needed welfare reforms in the Farm Bill, but a second chance to make the food stamp program really work for thousands of Nebraskans and millions of Americans is coming up on June 22. By passing the Farm Bill and investing in people, we can help thousands of folks gain self-sufficiency for their families, gain independence from the government, and increase their income way beyond what government programs could ever provide.

Rep. Don Bacon (R-Neb.) serves on the House Committee on Agriculture. Tarren Bragdon is the CEO and president of the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA).