Category: Public Policy
As Republicans roll out their ideological model of welfare reform, work requirements for welfare benefits reemerge for millions of the nation’s poor. The agenda has two primary goals: make the poor earn their government benefits and reduce welfare rolls purported as a necessity to move the dependent to self-sufficiency and restore American prosperity. While it is true that there is a dignity associated with work and self-sufficiency, the fear is a misguided plan that will adversely affect those with legitimate need without adequate support and resources.
This is, of course, not the first time that we’ve seen this plan. President Clinton rolled out a similar mandate back in 1996 – problem was, there were no jobs. Things are a little different because most welfare recipients today are currently employed. Since the advent of TANF (Temporary Aid to Needy Families), our current welfare system, a work requirement for benefits clause is already in place. Trump simply signed an Executive Order to cut funding to major programs (i.e. Medicaid and food stamps) and asking states to reinforce the mandate in effect reducing rolls by eliminating recipient benefits.
However, it is a fact that the economy is booming with unemployment rates at all-time lows even below the 5% national standard for full employment. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national rate stands at 3.9% and a 4.6% rate here in Michigan as of May 2018. Even Detroit carries an estimated low of 8.6% as of March 2018 plummeting from its peak of a 28% unemployment rate in 2009. All things considered, the official numbers (both nationally and locally) would likely double since part-time and discouraged workers are not included. Still, there is a marked improvement in job availability and employment opportunities now than what it was under Clinton’s plan in 1996.
People are also more educated these days as high school graduation and college enrollment rates have risen drastically over the past decade. The national high school graduation rate is at 84%. The State of Michigan is holding at about a 79% graduation rate since 2015, and Detroit’s graduation rate stands slightly over 80% for the 2016-17 school year, according to the Michigan Center for Educational Performance. Unfortunately, though, only about 30% of American adults hold a Bachelor’s degree. Only 39.4% of working-age adults (between 25 and 64) hold a two-year degree. That number drops in the Detroit area with a low 28% college graduation rate showing about 11% with Bachelor degrees and just over 8% holding a two-year Associates degree. That’s according to the Open Data Network (2016).
White House Budget Director, Mike Mulvaney (CNN Money, May 2017) states, “We are no longer going to measure compassion by the number of programs or the number of people on those programs. We’re going to measure compassion and success by the number of people we help get off those programs and get in charge of their lives.” As such, the employment requisite is set to offer a variety of options for recipients to satisfy the work requirement such as documented job-seeking activities, going to school, performing community service, or participating in a job-training program.
But the plan may be misguided or incomplete, at best, because most welfare recipients already have jobs as a requirement of the current benefit structure under TANF. The plan also does not take into consideration the many barriers to employment such as the required job skills and qualifications needed to obtain a job, transportation, child care, or, even, health. Then, what happens when we factor in the part-time workers who are employed but less than the mandated work requirement and can’t find full-time jobs. And, what about the fact that this same plan calls for defunding job training programs. We can be sure that the severely poor will get caught in the cross-fire and lose their safety net in the process.
Some tend to forget that the poorest population are children at a national poverty rate of 21% - that’s about 15 million U.S. children who live in abject poverty. We have become so defocused by able-bodied adults on welfare that it is forgotten that those benefits are received because of needy children or disabled persons in the household. Furthermore, the benefit structure of TANF imposes lifetime limits on assistance up to five (5) years and no longer allow benefits to be significantly raised for every additional child born to the household. That was the AFDC (Aid to Families and Dependent Children) program. Yet, these myths continue to be perpetuated to stigmatize the poor who depend on government assistance to survive.
Here’s the breakdown of employment for Medicaid recipients: 41% are employed full-time, 18% work part-time, and another 41% are unemployed. The percentage of unemployed recipients include children, seniors, and the disabled. The clear target of the States’ revival of work mandates are the able-bodied, working-age adults who acquired health insurance from the Medicaid expansion provision through Obamacare. This provision, in effect, made Medicaid an entitlement as some would assess. Under TANF, work requirements only applied to food stamps, cash, and housing assistance. Medicaid had no work requirement clause so states could not mandate recipients to work for government healthcare, until now.
In Michigan, legislators voted to implement a “workforce engagement rule” under Medicaid. This will require recipients to maintain full-time employment, at least 29 hours per week to retain their health coverage. Trump signed his Executive Order on Tuesday, April 10, 2018, a week later the Michigan Senate passed the work requirements bill for Medicaid on Wednesday, April 18, 2018. The rule will go into effect in October 2019 and does provide for satisfying the requirement by either employment, school, or job-seeking activities. Michigan residents who live in counties with an 8.5% unemployment rate or higher, disabled persons, full-time students, and those receiving substance abuse treatment would be exempt from the rule.
Was this post helpful? Leave a comment and share your thoughts. If you’re in need of case management services or assistance please Contact Us by completing the confidential contact form. Also, consider donating to continue this important work and expand our reach to the broader community.
[Opinion] The Working Poor: On Welfare With A Job
Trump Signs Executive Order Pushing Work Requirements for Welfare Recipients
MI Senate Passes Bill That Would Require People on Medicaid to Work
Republicans Want the Poor to Work for their Government Benefits
Bureau of Labor Statistics
Detroit’s True Employment Rate
Open Data Network
Trump’s Budget Proposes 40% Cut to Job Training Programs
Welcome to The Community Advocate Network. My name is Deborah Mitchell, I am a graduate in Social Work and Registered Social Work Technician. My human service background began in 2007 which includes medical case management and service navigation for the indigent population, outpatient mental health counseling with substance use and abuse disorders, supportive employment and job development for mental health consumers, and structured living domicile management.