Op-Ed from Dave Brat on farm bill

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Get to Work, Senators

By Congressman Brat (R) VA-07

This was first published in the Wall Street Journal

This week a congressional conference committee gets to work resolving the differences between the House and Senate versions of the 2018 farm bill, which authorizes the federal food-stamp program. Among the most contested issues will be the work requirements for able-bodied, single adults passed by the House. Republicans must stand up for fiscal responsibility and the dignity that comes with work.

I am deeply concerned for the poor and vulnerable. I believe in a social safety net for those who are truly in need. Unfortunately, America’s current safety nets don’t always live up to their promise or purpose. Since 1965, the percentage of working-age men outside the labor force—that is, men who are neither working nor seeking work—has more than tripled, rising from 3.3% to 11.6%. If we really want to combat poverty, we should evaluate how successful our social programs are at moving people off public assistance—not how many stay on. The Democrats’ preferred welfare strategy encourages dependency on government. The GOP would like to see welfare recipients become self-sustaining workers. The reason is simple: Work affirms human dignity.

American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks points out that men who withdraw from the labor force often retreat from other social institutions. According to AEI scholar Nicholas Eberstadt, two-thirds of men outside the labor force are unmarried. Despite being unemployed and having ample free time, they are no likelier to volunteer, participate in religious activities, or care for family members than men with full-time jobs. There’s also a connection between welfare and the opioid crisis.

Work requirements are among the simplest ways to help Americans on welfare learn to help themselves. To receive benefits under the House version of the farm bill, an able-bodied food-stamp recipient between 18 and 59 without dependent children would need to work or be enrolled in a job-training program for 20 hours a week. Even a part-time attachment to the labor market is important because it allows welfare recipients to gain experience and fill out their résumés.

The House bill’s provisions are popular. The Foundation for Government Accountability found that 83% of Americans support “requiring able-bodied, working-age adults to work or participate in a job training program at least part-time in order to receive food stamps.” Work requirements in exchange for welfare will also save money. The House-passed bill would reduce federal spending by more than $20 billion over the next decade without taking a penny away from those who need it most.

The senators in the conference committee can do the right thing for the deserving poor and taxpayers by preserving the work requirements for welfare in the final version of the 2018 farm bill.

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