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Welfare work requirement is on target

  • By The Newnan Times-Herald
  • |
  • Aug. 24, 2016 - 1:36 AM

News spread rapidly when we reported that starting Jan. 1 local food stamp recipients here and in 20 other counties will have to work for their food, quite literally, and we applaud the new development as far as it goes.

As staff writer Sarah Fay Campbell reported in Saturday’s edition, able-bodied recipients without children to watch at home will have to either get a job, prove they have applied for jobs, take job training or do volunteer work if they want to still get the grocery voucher.

There are an estimated 745 people just here in Coweta that this would apply to, collectively getting about $1.1 million per year in benefits or $130 per month on average.

Before someone whines about how heartless this requirement is, consider that it only kicks in when the local unemployment rate falls below the national average for the prior two years. That means there are likely to be some jobs for them.

A job is the best social program. It brings more than simply a paycheck. It brings dignity and self worth.

The cruel irony is that government giveaways actually rob recipients of the ambition to improve their station in live by becoming a crutch that allows them to just get by.

Few people would ever aspire to live on government assistance because it is demeaning and a piddling amount, but it is addicting. Few people are eager to become addicted to anything, but they do anyway because once they try it, they have trouble breaking free.

The argument for welfare programs comes from compassion for those who are too young, too old or too infirm to work. No one wants to deny the truly needy. The snag has always been how to define who is needy and how to make allowances for those who care for the needy, such as an able-bodied mother who can’t afford childcare.

This new work requirement has loads of sensible exceptions to address caregivers, the young, the old and the disabled.

There is a three-month limit on benefits over a three-year period that is part of the federal welfare-reform law enacted in 1996 during Newt Gingrich’s tenure as U.S. House speaker. President Bill Clinton signed it into law, and it contributed to a rise in employment and a stronger national economy. Ironically, his wife is unlikely to support that philosophy today if she becomes president.

The benefit limit is a smart restriction. Every parent in the animal kingdom recognizes the need to empty the nest at some point to prevent dependency, and it’s just as necessary when the government is playing the role of parent.

“Research shows being dependent on welfare for five years or more can ingrain habits and lifestyles that make it very difficult to achieve self-sufficiency,” write Logan Pike and John Nothdurft for the Georgia Public Policy Foundation.

As constructive as the new work requirements are, there are still a couple of reforms that the Georgia General Assembly failed to act on, despite the recommendations of Pike and Nothdurft and of a special committee of the House of Representatives assigned to study welfare fraud. The chairman of the committee, state Rep. David Clark, R-Buford, sponsored bills for both recommendations.

One would have made it a crime to assist another person in a bogus food stamp application, either to qualify illegally in the first place or to get a bigger benefit than allowed. That proposal passed the state House 140-26 with the support of all Coweta representatives, but it stalled in a state Senate committee and never came up for a vote there.

The other would have improved reporting requirements on the state for who is getting food stamps. It would have also created sanctions for failing to actually work, unless exempted.

The second proposal also would have had the state hire a firm to do the type of instant income and asset validation that businesses routinely do on customers. No one is supposed to get food stamps who has more than $2,000 in assets and income below the federal poverty level, but most recipients get into the program when they qualify for other government assistance that has looser financial requirements.

This verification process so common in business failed to get a vote in either the House or Senate despite the recommendation of the fraud study committee.

The Foundation for Government Accountability estimates that between five percent and 25 percent welfare spending by states has been found to be wasted or fraudulent.

“Georgia’s dreadful welfare system is perhaps one of the worst in the nation, but the legislature has an opportunity to reform the failing program and provide significant, lasting changes that will improve the lives of thousands of Georgia’s citizens,” Pike and Nothdurft write.

The work requirement is a step in the right direction, but the other provisions outlined in Clark’s bills shows what the next steps should be. Let’s hope the legislature acts more decisively when it reconvenes in January.