Work is a good thing


Progressives are outraged, but most Americans agree with House Republicans and Senator Joe Biden: Able-bodied, childless adults should have to work to receive welfare benefits.

If you’re able-bodied, of working age, and have no dependents, should you have to work to get welfare benefits? Most Americans would say “Yes.” House Republicans have said “Yes.” Joe Biden has said “Yes” in the past and “Maybe” in the present. But progressives are losing their minds.

Senator Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.) said, “I cannot support a deal that is only about hurting people.” A statement from Senator John Fetterman (D., Pa.) said the GOP plan “pushes people into poverty.” Progressive economist Dean Baker likened making a debt-limit deal with Republicans on issues such as work requirements to “negotiating with terrorists.”

The debt-limit bill that the House of Representatives passed includes the expansion of work requirements for SNAP and Medicaid. In both cases, the changes apply only to able-bodied, working-age adults without dependents.

The SNAP portion simply expands work requirements that already apply to people aged 18–49 by increasing the age cap to 55. Hardly radical.

The wisdom of Medicaid work requirements is more debatable, given the churn in the population that participates in the program and the consequent difficulty of administering such requirements. But it’s a debate worth having, and it’s neither cruel nor immediately disqualifying to suggest them.

Work requirements for welfare have been supported by Joe Biden. As a senator in 1996, he was part of the bipartisan supermajority in Congress that voted for the welfare-reform bill that instituted work requirements for multiple programs.

This wasn’t a passing phase for the then-senator. “Since 1987, when I first proposed an overhaul of the welfare system, I have argued that welfare recipients should be required to work,” Biden said on the Senate floor on August 1, 1996. “I was pilloried by many of my friends back then for even suggesting the idea of requiring work. Today, I think everyone here believes that work should be the premise of our welfare system.”

Among the American public in 2023, it’s not everyone, but it’s a pretty sizeable majority. A poll from February found that 68 percent of Americans believe welfare recipients should be required to work or participate in job-training programs if they are able to. That included 64 percent of Democrats and 61 percent of independents.

Wisconsin had a ballot question during its spring elections in April that asked, “Shall able-bodied, childless adults be required to look for work in order to receive taxpayer-funded welfare benefits?” Almost 80 percent of voters said “Yes.”

That’s exactly whom the expanded work requirements Republicans have proposed would apply to. The Washington Post reported that Senator Dick Durbin (D., Ill.) said that “if Republicans want ‘to impose work requirements on disabled people and children,’ they should say so.” They haven’t said so because that’s not what they’ve proposed.

Biden has signaled that he is open to at least the SNAP requirements, an indication that he’s giving up on his preposterous and ahistorical no-negotiations stance regarding the debt limit. Refusing to make a deal with the House because it is espousing a popular position he championed in the past would be a foolish reason to push the U.S. to default on its debt.
Dan Butcher

Dan Butcher is the editor and publisher of High Plains Pundit. Dan is also the host of the popular High Plains Pundit Podcast.

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