Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Trump’s Food Stamp Reform Would Close the Trap of Dependency

President Donald Trump’s newly released budget contains a proposed food stamp reform, which the left has denounced as a “horror” that arbitrarily cuts food stamp benefits by 25 percent.

These claims are misleading. In reality, the president’s proposed policy is based on two principles: requiring able-bodied adult recipients to work or prepare for work in exchange for benefits, and restoring minimal fiscal responsibility to state governments for the welfare programs they operate.

The president’s budget reasserts the basic concept that welfare should not be a one-way handout. Welfare should, instead, be based on reciprocal obligations between recipients and taxpayers.

Government should definitely support those who need assistance, but should expect recipients to engage in constructive activity in exchange for that assistance.

Work Requirements

Under the Trump reform, recipients who cannot immediately find a job would be expected to engage in “work activation,” including supervised job searching, training, and community service.

This idea of a quid pro quo between welfare recipients and society has nearly universal support among the public.

Nearly 90 percent of the public agree that “able-bodied adults that receive cash, food, housing, and medical assistance should be required to work or prepare for work as a condition of receiving those government benefits.”

The outcomes were nearly identical across party lines, with 87 percent of Democrats and 94 percent of Republicans agreeing with this statement.

Establishing work requirements in welfare was the core principle of the welfare reform law enacted in the mid-1990s. That reform led to record drops in welfare dependence and child poverty. Employment among single mothers surged.

Despite the harsh impact of the Great Recession, much of the poverty reduction generated by welfare reform remains in effect to this day.

Unfortunately, though, welfare reform altered only one of more than 80 federal means-tested welfare programs. The other programs were left largely untouched. Trump’s plan is to extend the successful principle of work requirements to other programs.

Restoring State-Level Accountability

The second element of Trump’s plan is to restore a minimal share of fiscal responsibility for welfare to state governments.

As noted, the federal government operates over 80 means-tested welfare programs providing cash, food, housing, medical care, training, and targeted social services to poor and low-income persons. In addition, state governments run a handful of small separate programs.

Last year, total federal and state spending on means-tested aid was over $1.1 trillion. (This sum does not include Social Security or Medicare.)

Some 75 percent of the $1.1 trillion in spending comes from the federal government. Moreover, nearly all state spending was focused in a single program: Medicaid.

Excluding Medicaid, the federal government picks up the tab for nearly 90 percent of all means-tested welfare spending in the U.S.

The United States has a federal system of government with three separate levels of independent elected government: federal, state, and local. Under this three-tier system, the federal government already bears full fiscal responsibility for national defense, foreign affairs, Social Security, and Medicare.

It makes no sense for the federal government to also bear 90 percent of the cost of cash, food, and housing programs for low-income persons.

But for decades, state governments have increasingly shifted fiscal responsibility for anti-poverty programs to the federal level. As a result, the federal government picks up nearly all the tab for welfare programs operated by the states.

This is a recipe for inefficiency and nonaccountability.

One of the key lessons from welfare reform—now 20 years ago—is that both blue and red state governments spend their own revenues far more prudently than they spend “free money” from Washington.

Efficiency in welfare requires state governments to have some fiscal responsibility for the welfare programs they operate.

The food stamp program is 92 percent funded by Washington. Washington sends blank checks to state capitals—the more people a state enrolls in food stamps, the more money Washington hands out.

A dirty secret in American politics is that many governors, both Republican and Democrat, regard this type of “free money” poured from Washington as a benign Keynesian stimulus to their local economies. The more spending, the better.

The Trump budget recognizes that the food stamp program will become more efficient if the state governments that operate the program have “skin in the game.” Therefore, it raises the required state contribution to food stamps incrementally from 8 percent to 25 percent.

By 2027, this would cost state governments an extra $14 billion per year. Half of the so-called “cuts” in food stamp spending in the Trump budget simply represent this modest shift from federal to state funding.

The remaining savings in food stamps in the Trump budget come from assumed reduction in welfare caseloads due to the proposed work requirement.

A Proven Policy

Today, there are some 4.2 million nonelderly able-bodied adults without dependent children currently receiving food stamp benefits. Few are employed. The cost of benefits to this group is around $8.5 billion per year.

In December 2014, Maine imposed a work requirement on this category of recipients. Under the policy, no recipient had his benefits simply cut. Instead, recipients were required to undertake state-provided training or to work in community service six hours per week.

Nearly all affected recipients chose to leave the program rather than participate in training or community service. As a result, the Maine caseload of able-bodied adults without dependent children dropped 80 percent in just a few months.

A similar work requirement for able-bodied adults without dependents, imposed nationwide, would save the taxpayer $80 billion over the next decade.

Even this would be a pittance compared to the $3.6 trillion the federal government will spend on cash, food, and housing benefits over that period.

The Trump policy is the exact opposite of so-called “block grants” in welfare.

In a welfare block grant, the federal government collects tax revenue and dumps money on state governments to spend as they will.

Welfare block grants have always been failures. In fact, the Trump budget would eliminate two failed block grant programs—the Community Development Block Grant and the Community Services Block Grant.

Instead of block grants, Trump is seeking to reanimate the principles of welfare reform from the 1990s that emphasized work requirements and renewed fiscal responsibility from state governments.

Deeply Needed Reforms

Of course, the left adamantly opposed welfare reform in the 1990s. In their view, welfare should be unconditional. Recipients should be entitled to cash, free food, free housing, and medical care without any behavioral conditions.

No wonder they have proclaimed Trump’s proposal to be “devastating” and a “horror.”

Contrary to protestations from the left, the U.S. welfare state is very large and expensive. For example, federal spending on cash, food, and housing benefits for families with children is nearly three times the amount needed to raise all families above the poverty level.

But the current welfare state is very inefficient. Trump seeks to reform that system.

In Trump’s unfolding design, welfare should be synergistic. Aid should complement and reinforce self-support through work and marriage rather than penalizing and displacing those efforts.

A welfare state founded on this synergistic principle would be more efficient than the current system. It would reduce both dependence and poverty.

More importantly, it would improve the well-being of the poor who have benefited little from the fractured families, nonemployment, dependence, and social marginalization fostered by the current welfare state.



The myth of ‘caring liberals’

Progressive politics is now about feeling good, not doing good. Comment from Britain:

It’s long been a common assumption that liberal, left-wing people are more caring than those on the right, that they are more compassionate people than conservatives. Right-wing people, by contrast, are generally assumed to be selfish, greedy and generally horrible. This consensus explains why now, if you live in a British city or large town, you will be surrounded by a multitude of signs outside houses exhorting you to vote Labour, Liberal Democrat or Green, and why you will scarcely see any ‘Vote Conservative’ signs. Everyone wants to be seen as a caring lefty, and no one wants to parade their right-wing opinions.

I have never fallen for this myth myself, that left-wing people are better or morally superior people. If anything, and if we are going to judge a person’s character by their politics, I’ve always been more inclined to believe the opposite – that people who loudly espouse caring politics tend to be more egotistical and selfish. This is because the main things that ostentatious liberals care about are themselves, their public image and their reputation as really nice people.

The ‘caring liberals’ myth was exposed once again in the aftermath of the Manchester bombing. The bien pensants were on hand to issue clamorous declarations of peace, love, hashtags and sympathy, but few from the liberal media or in the Labour Party dared to speak out unequivocally against the obvious evil afoot: Islamism, an extreme variant of a creed that now deliberately kills children.

The thing that metropolitan liberals fear most is to be accused of racism and being ‘right-wing’. They are utterly terrified of losing face this way. Hence in times of terror, they stick to pacifist platitudes and evasive, deceitful words. Far better, and far safer, to direct their anger instead against people like Katie Hopkins and other non-U vulgarians. For the liberal left, the abiding concern is always: how do I make myself look good out of this situation?

This reluctance to speak the truth after Manchester is indeed despicable, but none of us is surprised. The tactic by the liberal left has always been to change the subject of a conversation about Islamist terrorism, and to instead invoke the mythical spectre of ‘Islamophobia’. Or ‘foreign policy’. Or ‘root causes’. This egotism is all the more outrageous in that it masquerades itself as altruism and outward-looking compassion.

This behaviour is not new. It’s part of our Christian heritage, which long ago instilled in our collective mindset the notion that self-abasement and self-hatred are virtues. George Orwell wrote copiously about the liberal left’s infantile, attention-seeking self-hatred. And I remember my dad telling me about a letter he read in the Guardian in the 1960s, from a reader who would bump into West Indians and Pakistanis on purpose on the buses, just so he could say sorry to them. ‘We are all guilty’ remains the mantra of simpering, self-flagellating pietists.

‘Progressive’ politics today is about feeling good first, making yourself look good second, and doing good third. Ostensible and ostentatious liberal politics is now less about changing the world and more about you. Nietzsche’s warning about conspicuously caring types remains pertinent: ‘Where in the world have there been greater follies than with the compassionate? And what in the world has caused more suffering than the follies of the compassionate?’



For more blog postings from me, see  TONGUE-TIED, EDUCATION WATCH INTERNATIONAL, GREENIE WATCH,  POLITICAL CORRECTNESS WATCH, AUSTRALIAN POLITICS, and Paralipomena (Occasionally updated),  a Coral reef compendium and an IQ compendium. (Both updated as news items come in).  GUN WATCH is now mainly put together by Dean Weingarten. I also put up occasional updates on my Personal blog and each day I gather together my most substantial current writings on THE PSYCHOLOGIST.

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