Work requirements for food stamps are hardly onerous

The following article appeared in various news outlets throughout the State including the Las Cruces Sun-News.

Since 2009, New Mexico has waived federal work requirements tied to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as food stamps. Over 21 percent of all New Mexicans receive food stamps, leaving us behind only Mississippi.

Gov. Susana Martinez’ Administration has proposed to reinstate rules limiting able-bodied people – including parents of children older than six-years – to three months of SNAP benefits unless they work, do volunteer work, or attend job training classes at least 20 hours per week. Children and the myriad food programs targeted at them and those who simply cannot work are not up for changes.

New Mexico is not alone in re-instating these modest requirements. According to a September 2014 report from the Pew Center, no fewer than 17 states were working to re-instate work requirements on able-bodied adults.

In 2014 Maine re-imposed a three-month limit (out of every three-year period) on food stamps for able-bodied adults without minor dependents — unless they work 20 hours per week, take state job-training courses or volunteer for about six hours per week. The number of such people receiving food stamps in Maine has dropped nearly 80 percent since the rule kicked in, to 2,530 from about 12,000.

Maine’s work requirement has been in effect for about a year now without a reported increase in hunger. No reports of dire or exacerbated hunger exist for the decade-plus during which this policy was in effect nationwide from the time of the welfare reforms enacted by then-President Bill Clinton and a Republican Congress in the mid-1990s.

Seemingly, when presented with a set of requirements to in order to attain food stamps, able-bodied adults manage to find work attain food through working, moving to a places where work is more plentiful, or by some other means.

Food stamps were meant to provide a temporary bridge for people who are between jobs or have fallen on hard times. They were never meant to be a permanent way of life. The Administration’s proposal benefits recipients by increasing their opportunities to access gainful employment.

On the flip side, unlimited government benefits with no requirements allow people to completely remove themselves from the work or volunteer forces. Sitting at home watching television or waiting for the phone to ring is no way to look for work. Volunteering or improving one’s skills through enhanced education are great ways to find a job.

Indeed, while unemployment rates in New Mexico remain elevated, the economy in neighboring Texas is humming with unemployment at 4.2%. For generations Americans have moved to better their economic prospects. Should we really lure them to remain in economically-distressed states through government welfare?

The Martinez Administration’s proposal encourages self-reliance rather than dependency. What doesn’t work is forcing American taxpayers to spend $80 billion a year on a rapidly-expanding welfare program and imposing little or nothing in the way of requirements.

Democrats used to value an honest day’s work. As President Franklin Roosevelt said in 1935:

“Continued dependence upon relief induces a spiritual and moral disintegration fundamentally destructive to the national fibre. To dole out relief in this way is to administer a narcotic, a subtle destroyer of the human spirit.”

Requiring able-bodied adults without small children to work, get an education, or give back to their community is hardly too much to ask of those who wish to receive food stamps.

Gov. Martinez is wise to impose some form of requirements on able-bodied adults. It is a necessary first step towards ending New Mexico’s culture of dependency.

Paul Gessing is the President of New Mexico’s Rio Grande Foundation. The Rio Grande Foundation is an independent, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and educational organization dedicated to promoting prosperity for New Mexico based on principles of limited government, economic freedom and individual responsibility