Twenty years after “ending welfare as we know it” with the passage of the 1996 Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, the current administration issued an Executive Order on April 10, 2018 to Reduce Poverty in America by Promoting Opportunity and Economic Mobility.
While the Administration’s Order is more suggestion for Federal departments of government, the National Coalition for the Homeless [NCH] was strongly opposed to the 1996 law and is equally strongly opposed to the direction of the Executive Order, and any attempt to enforce work requirements on social benefits, including food assistance (SNAP) and Medicaid.
The reality is that the 1996 legislation and now the Executive Order goals language is code for reducing the welfare rolls even further by slicing benefits, imposing further work requirements and mandating further time limits on welfare programs. It is clear that the direction of the Executive Order, and potential work requirements being considered for access to food assistance (SNAP) and Medicaid, is punitive and does nothing to promote self-sufficiency. At a time when our wages are not keeping up with the cost of living, the only direction of economic mobility for many will be downwards, in some cases leading to homelessness.
In 1998 NCH partnered with the Children’s Defense Fund to publish Welfare to What: Early Findings on Family Hardship and Well-Being. The key findings include:
- only a small fraction of welfare recipients’ new jobs pay above-poverty wages; most of the new jobs pay far below the poverty line;
- many families who leave welfare are losing income and not finding steady jobs at all;
- extreme poverty is growing more common for children, especially those in female-headed and working families;
- many families leaving welfare report struggling to get food, shelter, or needed medical care; many are suffering even more hardships, including becoming homeless, than before;
- many families are not getting the basic help they need [for example, child care, medical coverage, food or transportation] that might enable them to sustain work and care for their children on very low wages;
- many families are denied cash assistance through little or no fault of their own; states often penalize families without assessing their ability to complete required activities.
Twenty years later, the 2018 Farm Bill with significant changes to SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or Food Stamps] proposed by House Agriculture Committee Chair Michael Conway is the testing ground for the broader direction of the 2018 Executive Order.
And, just as we said 20 years ago, the Center for Budget & Policy Priorities President Robert Greenstein said in April 2018 that the proposed changes in SNAP would “end or reduce benefits for a substantial number of low-income people… and would widen the nation’s economic divides.”
Clearly the current administrations goal is to “leave no billionaire behind” while punishing low-income people. We ask the same question of the Executive Order as we did 20 years ago: Welfare to What?
NCH does not believe the current false rhetoric of economic mobility and expanding opportunity. We know better. We know that the real direction of work requirements as welfare reform is punitive and the results will be increased poverty and homelessness for children and families, disproportionately impacting people of color, especially African-Americans and Native Americans.
NCH stands ready to partner with local, state and national organizations to demand the real direction of any reforms to welfare results in living wage employment and truly affordable and accessible housing.
-Bob Erlenbusch, NCH Board President
Executive Director, Sacramento Regional Coalition to End Homelessness