Combating ‘Willful Inactivity’

We didn’t need more evidence about the value of limiting the welfare state to the truly needy, but here it is: In Alabama, between January 1, 2016 and May 1, 2017, the number of “able-bodied adults without dependents utilizing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as SNAP or food stamps” dropped by 85 percent.

The Heart of Dixie isn’t alone. In Maine, the cut in SNAP rolls for the able-bodied was 90 percent. Kansas and Indiana have seen big drops, too.

As the Heritage Foundation’s Robert Rector noted last year, when the Obama administration waived the rule that able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) were limited to “three months of benefits in a 36-month period unless they were employed or participating in a work program at least part time,” enrollment in SNAP program soared. Between 2007 and 2013, the caseload expanded from under 2 million to 4.9 million.

In late 2014, Maine’s chief executive decided to re-impose the productive-activity mandate for ABAWDs getting food stamps. Cruel? Mean-spirited? Perhaps not. Here’s the state’s commissioner of human services:

When we began requiring able-bodied adults without dependents … to work 20 hours per week, volunteer an hour per day, or attend vocational training in order to maintain food stamp benefits, only about one in five complied. Even when we have reached out to ABAWDs with job and volunteer opportunities, they have opted simply to go without benefits and have declined to participate in the training or volunteer opportunities. It is truly a sad situation but it underscores the point that we cannot enable willful inactivity and it is imperative that these programs are designed to help people who are making a genuine attempt to transition from poverty to prosperity. They cannot be a way of life.

We know from the data and from our law enforcement partners that a significant portion of drug related arrests and crimes include individuals with EBT cards and SNAP benefits. Unfortunately, too many of these folks are ABAWDs that aren’t meeting the work requirement of the program. These able-bodied adults need to get a job, not get more food stamps. This experience tells us that government at all levels should consider work and volunteer requirements for all welfare programs in order to end the perception of welfare as a lifetime handout.

And as Rector pointed out, if SNAP were such a critical support for ABAWDs, who “barely have enough money to feed themselves,” why does the cohort smoke so many cigarettes? Using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, the scholar found that “over 50 percent of ABAWDs” smoke, “consuming on average 19 packs of cigarettes” a month, at a cost of “around $111 per month.” (See chart above.)

In New Mexico, though, the story’s familiarly depressing. Late last year, the Martinez administration, citing the three-decades-long litigation engineered by the state’s welfare industry to protect SNAP, “asked the U.S. government to continue exempting able-bodied adults receiving food aid from having to get a job or volunteer at a nonprofit agency.”

Meanwhile, the boss of the New Mexico Children, Youth, and Families Department is concerned that “two-thirds of those who are eligible have yet to enroll” their kids in taxpayer-subsidized childcare assistance.

Is it any wonder that “lack of applicants” is a serious problem for New Mexico employers looking to hire?