Newt Gingrich: Trump is working to disarm welfare's poverty trap

Newt Gingrich: Trump is working to disarm welfare's poverty trap
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As the Washington media continue to focus on gossip, President Donald Trump is continuing his fight to grow the economy and improve the lives of millions of Americans.

The president’s executive order, Reducing Poverty in America by Promoting Opportunity and Economic Mobility, which he signed Tuesday, will help millions of Americans break out of the dependency-focused welfare system and re-enter the workforce. This will help them lead happier, healthier, freer, more prosperous lives — and become able to better provide for their families and loved ones.

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The order directs all federal agencies that administer welfare programs to follow nine principles aimed at improving, streamlining and reforming the way the federal government helps our least fortunate Americans. Importantly, these principles are perfectly in line with President Ronald Reagan’s idea that the success of government welfare programs should be measured by the number of people who are able to lift themselves out of poverty and dependency rather than the number of people receiving aid.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Kavanaugh hailed by conservative gathering in first public speech since confirmation MORE’s goal is to disarm what Reagan called a “poverty trap, a creator and re-enforcer of dependency.” Perhaps the most important aspect of Trump’s executive order is its focus on promoting work.

Since the so-called “War on Poverty” started more than 50 years ago, the federal government has spent $20 trillion with only more dependency and despair to show for it. More families are living below the poverty line now than they were in 1966.

This is starting to change. Under President Trump, we have seen six straight months of 4.1 percent unemployment — a 17-year low — but there remain more than 6 million job openings in the United States. This is in part because many able-bodied Americans are trapped in the Washington dependency system.

According to the White House, more than 16 million able-bodied adults were receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits — also known as food stamps — in 2016. In the last 18 years, the number of able-bodied adults on Medicaid has quadrupled to 28 million.

It is not unreasonable to ask healthy, capable Americans to work for the assistance they are receiving. After all, work is the essential cornerstone to achieving the American dream. Working will help raise wages for these Americans and give them the ability to throw off the yoke of government dependency and bring themselves out of poverty.

This is a model that has been working in states such as Maine and Kansas. The White House reported that in states where work requirements were put in place for able-bodied adults receiving welfare benefits, recipients became twice as likely to work and the average time spent on food stamps was cut in half. In Kansas, implementing work requirements for able-bodied, childless adults effectively cut the state’s food stamp caseload by three-quarters. In Maine, income rose by 114 percent, just a single year after reissuing work requirements for childless, able-bodied adults.

I know this emphasis on work over dependency works at the federal level, too, because we did it when I was speaker of the House.

When we put work requirements and other measures in place for able-bodied recipients of government assistance, enrollment in dependency programs fell by 60 percent. These American families who moved out of dependency into the workforce saw their incomes increase, on average, by 25 percent. Even more importantly, the reforms we enacted when I was in Congress led to a record level of young children being freed from poverty and given the opportunity to chase their own American dreams.

Unfortunately, many of the reforms we put in place in the late 1990s that were designed to shrink government dependency and promote economic success and independence were undone by Democrats and President Obama. As a result, government assistance rolls have ballooned. In 2000, there were about 17.2 million people receiving food stamps; there are now 40.7 million. In 2017, there were 73.5 million people enrolled in Medicaid; this has more than doubled from 34.5 million in 2000.

President Trump is fighting to reverse these trends and restore the ideals of work, independence and prosperity in America. His executive order on economic mobility is exactly the right first step to start filling the 6.6 million open jobs in our economy, boosting the wages and incomes of American families, and building on the tremendous economic success we have already seen in his first year.

Republicans should take note, though. President Trump can lead the way, but true reforms will have to come from Congress. The good news is, work requirements for government assistance are wildly popular.

A poll by the Foundation for Government Accountability published in February found that work requirements for able-bodied adults to be eligible to receive government aid have tremendous public support: 83 percent supported work requirements for food stamps, 75 percent for Medicaid, and 81 percent for public housing.

President Trump has started a very important fight. Congress should join him to finish it.

Newt Gingrich is a former speaker of the House and host of Defending America, an online course on protecting fundamental American values. He is also a senior scientist with Gallup.