Heritage Action Supports Rep. Garret Graves’ Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Reform Act of 2017

This week, Rep. Garret Graves (R-LA) introduced the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Reform Act of 2017 (H.R. 2996). This legislation would help reduce poverty and government dependency, increase self-sufficiency, and restore families by strengthening the effective and popular work requirements for all “able-bodied adults without dependents” (ABAWDs) who receive food stamps from SNAP.  

In 1996, President Clinton signed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act, which became popularly known as “welfare reform,” into law. The legislation transformed the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) into Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), a program intended to provide temporary financial assistance to low-income families while encouraging work and self-sufficiency.

Most significantly, the 1996 welfare reform included mandatory federal work requirements, stipulating that welfare recipients must be engaged in work or some type of work activity in order to receive TANF benefits. These reforms were popular and successful as welfare caseloads dropped “by over 50 percent, employment of the least-skilled single mothers surged, and the poverty rates of black children and single-parent families dropped rapidly to historic lows.”

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Reform Act of 2017 builds on the success of the 1996 welfare reform by applying similar principles involving work requirements to SNAP – a welfare program that has grown out-of-control in recent years, both in cost and in the number of recipients. From 2000 to 2015, food stamp recipients increased by more than 28 million and cost the government $83.1 billion in FY 2014 alone.

According to Robert Rector, Senior Research Fellow in Domestic Policy Studies in the Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity at the Heritage Foundation, and Rachel Sheffield’s paper Setting Priorities for Welfare Reform:

“The food stamp program is the second largest means-tested welfare program. In 2014, government spent $83.1 billion on the program. In recent years, the most rapidly growing group of food stamp recipients has been able-bodied adults without dependents. ABAWDs are adults between the ages of 18 and 49 who are not disabled and who have no children to support. In 2014, nearly five million ABAWDs received food stamps each month; few are employed.”

Congress must consider common-sense reform to SNAP in order to rein in its unsustainable growth. Requiring able-bodied adults without dependents to work as a condition for food stamp benefits is a sensible, effective policy that should receive broad bipartisan support. An overwhelming 90 percent of Americans agree that able-bodied adults receiving means-tested welfare assistance should be required to work or prepare for work. This reform was included in both President Trump’s FY 2018 budget request as well as the House GOP’s FY 2017 budget, and it has been implemented in Maine, Kansas, and Alabama with great success.

Rector and Sheffield continue:

“ABAWDs who receive food stamps should be required to work, prepare for work, or look for work in exchange for receiving benefits. In FY 2014, Maine implemented a work requirement for ABAWDs. After the implementation of the work requirement, Maine’s ABAWD caseload dropped substantially, by 80 percent within just a few months. If a federal work requirement for ABAWDs were enacted and achieved the same level of success as was achieved in Maine, the reform could save taxpayers up to $9.7 billion annually.”

If passed and signed into law, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Reform Act of 2017 would encourage millions of Americans to get back to work, help end the cycle of poverty for millions dependent on government assistance, and save taxpayers billions of dollars over the next decade.       

***Heritage Action supports the legislation, encourages Representatives and Senators to support it, and reserves the right to key vote in the future.***

 

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Heritage Action Supports Rep. Pete Olson’s Civil Rights Uniformity Act

This Wednesday Rep. Pete Olson (R-TX) was joined by Reps. Ralph Abraham (R-LA), Brian Babin (R-TX) and Vicky Hartzler (R-MO) in introducing the Civil Rights Uniformity Act (H.R. 2796). This legislation would prevent all references to the words “sex” or “gender” from being misinterpreted to mean “gender identity” in federal civil rights law, including Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Fair Housing Act, Obamacare, and other laws. This bill affirms that when Congress passed civil rights law, the purpose was to protect against discrimination when it comes to a person’s objective biological sex, not a subjective, self-declared “gender identity.”

On May 13, 2016, the Obama administration’s Department of Education and Department of Justice issued a joint “Dear Colleague Letter on Transgender Students, declaring that the agencies would “treat a student’s gender identity as the student’s sex for purposes of enforcing Title IX.” The guidance directed all educational institutions that receive federal funds to allow transgender students to use showers, bathrooms, lockers, dorms, and joint athletic teams that correspond to their subjective, self-declared gender identity, rather than their objective biological sex defined on their birth certificate.  

On August 21, 2016, U.S. District Judge Reed O’Connor ruled the administration’s attempts to redefine sex as unlawful and blocked implementation of the directive ruling. Judge O’Connor ruled that the administration exceeded its authority under Title IX by not allowing the public the proper time to comment and by reinterpreting the law against the will of Congress. According to O’Connor, “It cannot be disputed that the plain meaning of the term sex…meant the biological and anatomical differences between male and female students as determined at their birth.”   

The Obama administration’s unilateral decision to redefine federal law for political purposes imposed a one-size-fits-all policy on every school in the country. It blatantly undermined the rule of law, separation of powers, and federalism while threatening the safety and privacy of young women.

The Trump administration took positive steps forward in addressing the problem by rescinding the Obama guidance on February 22, 2017, but unfortunately this decision was limited to Title IX and the education community. The Trump administration should extend this decision to every area where federal agencies have imposed new “gender identity” rules under the Obama administration, including employment, housing and shelters, business regulation, and health care.

More importantly, Congress must codify this clarification into federal law to prevent future administrations from undermining the legislative branch once again. Ryan Anderson, Ph. D., Senior Research Fellow in American Principles and Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation, gives further guidance, writing that “Congress should make such administrative actions permanent. The Civil Rights Uniformity Act would:

“have the benefit of undoing the past and current abuses of Title IX, as well as preventing future abuses of other civil rights law.

“Passing the Civil Rights Uniformity Act would ensure that unelected bureaucrats and judges would not get to unilaterally reshape policy affecting women and girls. It would allow schools to continue providing separate bathroom and locker room facilities and sports teams based on biological sex, not gender identity.

“It also would address other unilateral Obama-era “gender identity” reinterpretations in health care, emergency shelters, housing, and employment. At the same time, such legislation would properly leave states and private entities entirely free to provide nuanced, sensitive, and reasonable accommodations of people who identify as transgender.”

Reiterating that “sex” and “gender” refer to objective biology, rather than subjective, self-professed “gender identity” in all federal anti-discrimination statutes, is the most permanent and comprehensive response to the radical left’s transgender policy agenda. Congress should reassert its constitutional authority, defend the rule of law and federalism, and protect the safety and privacy of young women by passing the Civil Rights Uniformity Act.

***Heritage Action supports the legislation, encourages Representatives and Senators to support it, and reserves the right to key vote in the future.***

 

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Heritage Action Supports Rep. Phil Roe’s Employee Rights Act

This month, Rep. Phil Roe (R-Tenn.) introduced the Employee Rights Act (H.R. 2723). This legislation would protect workers from union pressure by putting power in the hands of employees and making union leaders more accountable to their members. As the Heritage Foundation notes, if union bosses “were angels, such changes would be unnecessary” but “since they are not” new protections are necessary.

Heritage explains the legislation would guarantee employees the rights to:

  •         Vote privately in a secret ballot election before forming a union;
  •         Opt out of having their personal contact information provided to a union during an organizing drive;
  •         Hear from employers at least 40 days prior to voting in a union election;
  •         Vote in a secret ballot election before accepting a contract or going on strike;
  •         Vote regularly on re-electing their union;
  •         Decide whether their union can spend their dues on matters unrelated to collective bargaining; and,
  •         Be free from union interference or extortion in exercising their legal rights.

Workers should not be pressured or coerced by unions or union bosses to take actions that undermine their rights. Protecting the voting rights of employees is essential:

“Under general union representation, employees relinquish their individual negotiating authority to a union. The union becomes the sole representative of the employees in negotiations with their employer. Unionized employers must negotiate employment terms with the union and the union alone. They may not bargain with individual workers.”

Though the purpose of unions is ostensibly to protect workers, they often fail to do so because they are motivated by the “institutional objectives” of expanding in size, income and influence. They want “contracts that protect their institutional powers.” When the interests of unions come in conflict with the interests of workers, unions often make decisions that benefit them rather than employees. In an effort to expand power and influence, unions discourage secret ballot elections or work to eliminate them altogether; this results in the loss of privacy benefits for workers. Unions can also call for a strike without first consulting workers.

Workers deserve a say in decisions that put their jobs at risk. The Employee Rights Act would amend this by requiring a secret ballot vote before a union can call a strike. Furthermore, the bill would solidify paycheck protection provisions, provide a mechanism for union re-certification, and finally criminalize union threats under federal law.

David W. Kreutzer, Ph.D., Senior Research Fellow in Labor Markets and Trade in the Institute for Economic Freedom and Opportunity at The Heritage Foundation, issued this statement:

“All union members deserve the protection of secret ballots and reasonable choice over who represents them. Ninety-four percent of union members are represented by unions for whom they never voted.  Let the dues-payers decide whether their union is an effective advocate for them or not. Competent, worker-focused union leadership has nothing to fear from members’ freedom to choose.”

The Employee Rights Act would solve many problems workers face today, including problems enshrined in current labor law. The bill would help restore a balance of power in the workplace from unions to workers and help ensure labor unions best serve the interest of employees, not union bosses.

***Heritage Action supports the legislation, encourages Representatives to support it, and reserves the right to key vote in the future.***

 

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Heritage Action Supports Rep. Mike Kelly and Sen. Mike Enzi’s Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act

Last month, Rep. Mike Kelly (R-PA) and Sen. Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) introduced the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act of 2017 (H.R. 1881 & S. 811). This legislation would prohibit the federal government, and state governments who receive certain federal funding, from discriminating against a child welfare service provider that serves families and children according to their “sincerely held religious beliefs or moral convictions.” Child welfare providers, including private and faith-based adoption and foster care agencies, who believe every child deserves a mom and a dad would be fully protected under this bill.

Ryan Anderson, Ph. D., Senior Research Fellow in American Principles and Public Policy at The Heritage Foundation, and Sarah Torre, visiting fellow in the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at The Heritage Foundation, write:

“There’s no shortage of kids who need help. Every year about 400,000 children spend time in our nation’s foster care system, with roughly 100,000 eligible for adoption. Many bounce from home to home and are never adopted. Many will “age-out” of foster care, facing increased risk for low academic achievement and poverty.

“The efforts of faith-based organizations and the work of more than 1,000 private, licensed foster care and adoption providers across the United States are helping to increase the number of children adopted every year. Private providers handle roughly a quarter of the domestic adoptions by non-relatives that occur in the United States. Faith-based agencies also provide spiritual, emotional and relational support to families that seek to adopt or become foster parents, which they are less likely to receive from state-run agencies.”

Over the past few years, faith-based organizations who believe marriage is the union of one man and one woman have been under attack. In 2014, then President Barack Obama bypassed Congress and issued an executive order elevating sexual orientation and gender identity to special protected status for the purpose of federal grants and contracts. In June 2015, the Supreme Court redefined marriage throughout the country by mandating government entities treat same-sex relationships as marriages.

Religious liberty advocates are hopeful President Trump will fulfill his campaign promise and reverse the Obama Administration’s actions on religious liberty. But sadly, his most recent executive order on “free speech and religious liberty” fails to address the major threats to religious liberty, including protection for faith-based organizations who provide child welfare services.

While limited in scope, the Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act would be a significant first step toward protecting the rights of organizations to carry out their services according to their religiously informed beliefs about marriage. Not only is this policy common sense, it is essential for the thousands of children who deserve stable homes and families.

Couples who would rather work with state-run agencies or providers without religious convictions are free to do so. This legislation would not prevent secular child welfare providers from continuing their valuable services in any way.   

Summarizing the core argument for the bill, Ryan Anderson issued this statement:

“No adoption agency should be penalized by the state because they work to find children homes with a married mom and dad. Shutting down agencies or disqualifying them from government programs because they believe kids deserve both a mom and a dad does nothing to help children in need. All it does is score a point for LGBT activists using children as pawns in their culture war. We need as many adoption and foster care agencies working for kids as possible. But there is no need to force them to embrace LGBT orthodoxy.”

The Child Welfare Provider Inclusion Act prioritizes children over politics. It protects and empowers Americans who have dedicated their lives to give the most vulnerable in our society – those without a family – the father and mother they deserve.

***Heritage Action supports the legislation, encourages Representatives and Senators to support it, and reserves the right to key vote in the future.***

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Heritage Action Supports Rep. Mark Walker and Sen. Steve Daines’ Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success (A-PLUS) Act

Earlier this year, Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) and Sen. Steve Daines (R-MT) introduced the Academic Partnerships Lead Us to Success (A-PLUS) Act (H.R. 719 & S. 221). This legislation would allow states to opt out of programs that fall under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) — formerly known as No Child Left Behind (NCLB) — and repurpose those federal funds on a consolidated basis “to advance the educational policy of the State.”

During the presidential campaign, then-candidate Donald Trump promised to return educational decision making back to the state and local level by ending common core and prompting school choice. A-PLUS would go a long way in fulfilling this promise by potentially transferring $23 billion in funding that currently goes to ineffective and duplicative federal programs authorized by ESSA, to state-run educational programs that better target the needs of local communities.

According to Lindsey Burke, Director of the Center for Education Policy at The Heritage Foundation, the A-PLUS Act would:

“Give flexibility to states and local communities, reduce administrative costs and the federal compliance burden associated with accessing federal education funding; and free states and localities from their role as compliance entities subordinate to the federal government, making them accountable to parents and taxpayers instead.”

State and local governments finance 90 percent of all K-12 education spending but must comply with burdensome federal mandates and regulations or risk losing billions in federal funding. This federal overreach hinders the ability of state and local governments from engaging in innovative educational initiatives, such as school choice programs like the successful D.C. Opportunity Scholarship Program.

School choice programs put parents, not federal bureaucrats or unions, in charge of their children’s education and makes local schools more accountable to parents and taxpayers. The A-PLUS Act would free up states through additional resources and less federal mandates, allowing them to pursue student-centered education reforms. Burke writes:

“Language within the A-PLUS proposal explicitly recognizes that accountability is strengthened when directed toward parents. Allowing states to put their dollars toward state and locally determined priorities would enable them to respond more directly to parents and taxpayers. Specifically, and with conservative leadership at the helm in most states, it would create space for states to establish and grow choice-based options for families—the ultimate accountability mechanism.”

With a unified Republican government and the vast majority of House Republicans having already voted for A-PLUS last session, now is the time for Congress to begin to restore federalism in education, empower parents and students, and remove archaic obstacles that have prevented true opportunity for all.

***Heritage Action supports the legislation, encourages Representatives and Senators to support it, and reserves the right to key vote in the future.***

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