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Food-stamp work requirements will lift Americans out of poverty

By: Chairman Mike Conaway and Lee Bowes, CEO of America Works of New York, Inc.

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Washington, April 12, 2018 | comments
USA Today
There is a fundamental link between poverty and work.

Individuals who hold full-time employment are 10 times less likely to be poor than people who are out of work during at least part of the year.

But not every American has the skills and training needed to hold full-time employment.

Teaching these skills takes time and resources, which is why for so long our nation has taken a piecemeal approach to supporting work and training to help move people out of poverty. Instead, we’ve focused the conversation on poverty around benefits — on the dollars spent and the meals served.

Benefits are critically important and serve a vital role in the safety net aimed at catching people if they should fall into poverty. But equally important is a focus on helping these same people climb back out of poverty.

That point is underscored by a 2016 poll from the American Enterprise Institute and the Lost Angeles Times. Forty-one percent of the poor people included in the survey viewed their circumstances as temporary.

People want to believe the American dream is attainable.

That’s why we need to shift the conversation on poverty in this country from one focused purely on benefits to one about improving futures.

And as the House Agriculture Committee releases its new farm bill — legislation that governs the policy for our nation’s nutrition programs — that is precisely what we aim to do.

Our proposal is straightforward: help those on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) who are work-capable find employment to support their households.

Under this proposal, work-capable SNAP recipients will need to work for at least 20 hours per week. That can take a variety of forms: they can work, participate in a work program, or participate in a SNAP employment and training (E&T) program. This bill makes a significant investment in training and case management to guarantee access to an E&T slot to anyone who wants one.

But to ensure this investment yields results, we’re also making these work requirements mandatory. No more loopholes that create disincentives to work.

We are equipping states with resources to arm participants with the skills, certifications and education needed to succeed in today’s economy.

And that’s a critical point, because our economy is supporting more jobs and a higher standard of living for ALL Americans. Jobs that were once unavailable are now at an individuals’ fingertips if aided with the proper training and skill set.

SNAP recipients want to be beneficiaries of this economic growth. They want to take advantage of opportunities and meet the needs of our nation’s businesses.

It is also important to note that for nearly two-thirds of SNAP recipients who are currently exempt from work-related programs, nothing will change. That group includes seniors, those who are mentally or physically disabled, children and various other individuals who would not be subject to our proposed modifications to work.

But for work-capable adults, if they want to receive benefits, they’ll be expected to work. And if they don’t work, they are self-selecting to remove themselves from the program.

People will try to demonize what we are doing here and say that this proposal is too much, too fast, too soon.

They will try to claim that this bill is about kicking people out of the program to save money. But that couldn’t be further from the truth.

Under this work proposal, only an individual who chooses not to participate in a guaranteed E&T slot will lose eligibility for SNAP.

Others will claim that these modifications aren’t needed because most SNAP recipients who can work, do work. And under our bill those individuals can have the peace of mind that their benefits will not be compromised.

While critics will say SNAP isn’t meant to be a jobs program, we believe these modifications can support nutrition for families in need while also creating new opportunities that emphasize work and independence and provide the resources needed to move people forward.

Advocating for the status quo has never and will never lift someone out of poverty.

That’s why we need to begin to define success differently — not by how many people we serve, but rather how many people we aid in climbing the economic ladder.

Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, is chairman of the House Agriculture Committee and on Twitter @ConawayTX11‏. Lee Bowes is CEO of America Works of New York, Inc., a training and placement company.
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