Welfare Reform: Work Requirements for Food Stamps

Background: First created in the late 1930s as the Food Stamp Program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is a federal aid program that provides food-purchasing assistance for low-income families and individuals. SNAP is the second largest mean-tested welfare program in the U.S., providing more than 45 million individuals with food-assistance at a cost of $83.1 billion in fiscal year (FY) 2014 alone.

Problem: Welfare programs, including food stamps, should be temporary, limited in size and scope, and assist those truly in need. But over the past two decades the program has grown out-of-control, both in cost and in the number of individuals receiving benefits. The number of food stamp recipients has increased from around 17 million in 2000 to more than 45 million in 2015, all while costs have risen from $20.7 billion to more than $83 billion during that same time frame.

The goal of any welfare program should be to increase self-sufficiency by helping individuals find a job, provide for their family, and escape the cycle of poverty. As President Ronald Reagan so elegantly put it:

“Welfare needs a purpose: to provide for the needy, of course, but more than that, to salvage these, our fellow citizens, to make them self-sustaining and, as quickly as possible, independent of welfare. We should measure welfare’s success by how many people leave welfare, not by how many are added.”

If we accept how President Reagan defines welfare success, the food stamp program has clearly failed. Perhaps most concerning is the number of able-bodied Americans without children who are now hooked on the program. Robert Rector, Senior Research Fellow in Domestic Policy Studies in the Institute for Family, Community, and Opportunity at the Heritage Foundation, and Rachel Sheffield highlight this concern in their 2016 paper Setting Priorities for Welfare Reform:

“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. ABAWDs who receive food stamps should be required to work, prepare for work, or look for work in exchange for receiving benefits.”

Solution: 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.”

Legislative Solution: Congress should build on the success of the 1996 welfare reform by applying similar principles involving work requirements to SNAP. At a minimum, Congress should enact work requirements for ABAWDs as a condition to receive food stamp benefits. Rep. Garret Graves’ (R-LA) recently introduced Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Reform Act of 2017 (H.R. 2996) that would do just that.

This legislation would help reduce poverty and government dependency, increase self-sufficiency, and restore families by strengthening the effective and popular work requirements. 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 FY2018 budget request as well as the House GOP’s FY2017 budget, and it has been implemented in Maine, Kansas, and Alabama with great success.

Call to Action: Heritage Action has endorsed the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Reform Act of 2017 and urges Sentinels to contact their members of Congress and ask them to co-sponsor the bill. If passed and signed into law, this legislation would encourage millions of Americans to get back to work, help end the cycle of poverty for individuals dependent on government assistance, and save taxpayers billions of dollars.

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Repeal Obamacare Progress (MacArthur-Meadows Amendment)

Heritage Action’s CEO Mike Needham said the proposed MacArthur-Meadows Amendment to the AHCA “advances the debate and raises key issues for the Senate to consider as the effort to repeal Obamacare moves forward.”

This amendment, which is the product of weeks-long negotiations by Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ) and Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC), is an important step forward in rolling back the Title I regulations of Obamacare because it would allow states to say “NO” to some of the most harmful parts of Obamacare. As Mike made clear, “this is not full repeal and it is not what Republicans campaigned on” but it does “represent important progress”. That means there is more work to do.

How did we get here?  Last month Congress introduced the American Health Care Act (AHCA). The original bill failed to truly repeal Obamacare. Fortunately, House Republican leaders pulled the bill from the floor.

Since that point, conservatives have been leading. Members of the House Freedom Caucus have worked directly with the Trump Administration and a handful of more moderate Republicans to make important policy changes that allow the debate to move forward.

So what does the new amendment include? The amendment allows states to opt out of two of the most harmful parts of Obamacare, the essential health benefits mandate and parts of community rating scheme.

Essential health benefits: This mandate forces insurance companies to cover comprehensive benefits for all recipients regardless of needs or wants. It essentially dictates one size fits all health insurance policies. Requiring essential health care benefits restricts health care providers from customizing plans and offering consumers a choice in the marketplace. Allowing states to set their own essential health benefits would lead to increased choice and lower costs.

Community rating: This mandate prevents insurance companies from setting prices based on various risk and cost factors. Requiring community rating forces many consumers to pay more for insurance than should be necessary. Allowing states to set their own standards will lead to increased choice and lower costs.

Is this the final bill? No. Even if  the MacArthur-Meadows Amendment is added to the AHCA, the bill must be voted on by the House. From there it will head to the Senate where is it guaranteed to change. That will provide  Senate conservatives an opportunity to make further changes and continue repealing key parts of Obamacare.

Heritage Action will continue pushing for real repeal of Obamacare and move toward a patient-centered healthcare system.

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Full Repeal Must Include the Regulatory Architecture of Obamacare

Background: On March 6th, House Republican Leadership released a long anticipated bill that partially repeals and replaces Obamacare named the American Health Care Act (H.R. 1628). Speaker Paul Ryan was forced to delay a vote on the AHCA before finally pulling it from the House floor due to lack of support among House Republicans – conservatives and moderates included. While the bill contains many provisions that should concern conservatives, the main problem with the repeal portion of the bill is the failure to repeal most of the insurance regulations that contribute to the rising cost of health care. The Republican proposal not only maintains the overall regulatory framework of Obamacare, but also subsidizes that regulatory framework through new refundable tax credits aimed to help individuals buy their own health care plans – plans that will remain highly regulated and overly expensive.

Obamacare Regulations Defined: The heart and soul of Obamacare contains numerous insurance mandates and regulations that restrict consumer choice and drive up the cost of health care premiums by as much as 68 percent. The four most problematic regulations include guaranteed issue, community rating, essential health benefits, and actuarial value.

1.) Guaranteed Issue: Prohibits insurance companies from denying customers regardless of their previous insurance history, which incentivizes potential customers to delay purchasing insurance until they need it. The guaranteed issue requirement necessitated the individual mandate in Obamacare, which has been replaced in the AHCA by the 30 percent surcharge in the individual market paid directly to insurance companies. Congress should address this issue by simply extending existing protections in the employer market to the individual market once Obamacare’s regulations have been repealed to solve the “waiting until you are sick to get coverage” issue.

2.) Community Rating: Prevents insurance companies from setting prices based on the age, health status and/or gender of the customer. The AHCA only moves the age rating ratio that Obamacare uses from 3:1 to 5:1, but does not address health status or gender.

3.) Essential Health Benefits: Outlaws inexpensive and customized health insurance plans by requiring insurance companies to cover comprehensive benefits, even unnecessary ones including maternity care for single males, specific rehabilitative services, preventive services, and others.

4.) Actuarial Value: Abolishes cheaper, catastrophic plans by requiring insurance companies to cover a certain percentage of total health care costs. The AHCA does get rid of this regulation, which is one of the only positive reforms in the bill.

Moderate Republicans have hidden behind the flimsy argument that Congress cannot repeal Obamacare’s insurance mandates and regulations through budget reconciliation because it does not have a clear budgetary impact. In reality, Obamacare’s regulatory architecture imposes significant costs on taxpayers and is inseparable from the rest of the law. These regulations are one of the main reasons why health care costs are rising and federal spending is increasing under this law. Congress has the legislative tool it needs to repeal Obamacare’s regulatory architecture through budget reconciliation and should maximize its use. Congress can address individuals priced out of the market with pre-existing conditions through alternative solutions such as state based high risk pools.

Full Obamacare Repeal: Republicans cannot maintain Obamacare’s regulatory structure and claim to have repealed the law. Without repealing these insurance regulations – the regulatory architecture of Obamacare – Republicans will fail to keep their seven year promise to fully repeal Obamacare, and health care costs will continue to rise. According to Heritage Action CEO Michael A. Needham:

“Many Americans seeking health insurance on the individual market will notice no significant difference between the Affordable Care Act (i.e., Obamacare) and the American Health Care Act. That is bad politics and, more importantly, bad policy. Rather than accept the flawed premises of Obamacare, congressional Republicans should fully repeal the failed law and begin a genuine effort to deliver on longstanding campaign promises that create a free market health care system that empowers patients and doctors.”

Obamacare Timeline Slipping: The ongoing delay over how much of Obamacare to repeal and what to replace it with has caused the timeline to slip. Further delays are pushing repeal past the congressional Easter recess and dangerously close to when the federal government runs out of funding on April 28th and when insurance companies must submit proposed premiums for 2018 Obamacare plans on May 3rd. Congress could quickly repeal first and then debate and pass free-market health care reform that lowers cost, increases choice, and restores the doctor-patient relationship.

Conclusion: Republicans promised to fully repeal Obamacare, including Title I regulations, campaigned and won on full repeal, and voted more than 60 times to repeal parts or all of the disastrous healthcare law. Congress can repeal Obamacare through modifications to the AHCA, through a new, more comprehensive rewrite, or by simply re-passing the 2015 repeal bill (H.R. 3762) with additional language repealing the insurance regulations. The 2015 bill was supported by nearly every single Republican, but ultimately vetoed by former President Barrack Obama in 2016.

Now that voters gave Republicans a unified government including the White House, there are no more excuses. Failure is not an option. Conservatives need to continue pushing for full repeal, including all of the Obamacare insurance regulations, as soon as possible by actively participating in town halls, writing letters to the editor, and contacting their member of Congress.

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House Members Should Oppose Representative McCarthy’s Homeland Safety and Security Act (H.R. 5611)

This week the House of Representatives was scheduled to vote on H.R. 5611, the Homeland Safety and Security Act, as offered by Majority Leader McCarthy (R-CA). The bill has multiple policy problems from a conservative standpoint and should be opposed.

As currently drafted, H.R. 5611 has three main sections:

  1. A section formally establishing an office at the Department of Homeland Security, the Office for Partnerships to Prevent Terrorism (OPPT), with a new high ranking, Assistant Secretary for Partnerships to Prevent Terrorism, who will be appointed by Secretary Jeh Johnson. This office makes permanent the current Department of Homeland Security’s (DHS) Office of Community Partnerships, which conducts the Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) programs and was created by Secretary Johnson without congressional approval. The new Assistant Secretary is provided the authority to issue grants and lead the agencies “efforts to prevent violent extremist activities.”
  2. A section that allows the Attorney General to delay the transfer of a firearm for up to three business days and petition a court to permanently block the transfer of a firearm to a person who “is being investigated as a known or suspected terrorist”.
  3. A section revoking passports previously issued to any individuals who become a member of or otherwise affiliated with a foreign terrorist organization, or have aided, abetted, or given material support to such an organization.

While the revoking passports for individuals associated with terrorist organizations is a good proposal, the most significant sections of this bill fall far short of an effective, conservative, or even appropriate response to the Orlando terrorist attack.

The first section of the bill is the bulk of the legislation. Unfortunately, it further codifies a failed approach to fighting Islamic terrorism at DHS called “countering violent extremism” or CVE. While the bill attempts to swap out every mention of CVE with “radical Islamist terrorism” (as compared to earlier legislative proposals), H.R. 5611 is clearly CVE-under-another-name.  It renames and formally authorizes the current Office for Community Partnerships at DHS, which is the driving office for their CVE policy, as the “Office for Partnerships to Prevent Terrorism (OPPT).”  Then, it also creates a new, powerful executive branch position, the “Assistant Secretary of the Office for Community Partnerships,” tasked with coordinating with FEMA and the Civil Rights and Civil Liberties office of DHS to distribute grants.

Again, while the bill does not contain the phrase “countering violent extremism” (as past legislative versions have), the only term actually defined is “violent extremism.”  As both Heritage and Heritage Action have written, this is a failed strategy that House Republicans should reject and ensure is not made permanent within the agency.

Furthermore, there is no effective prohibition against funding groups like CAIR, and other unindicted co-conspirators from the Holy Land Trial, or other potential Muslim Brotherhood front groups, from receiving the grants or participating in the “community outreach.” The bill’s prohibition leaves it to the discretion of the new Assistant Secretary. The bill also authorizes at least $30 million in spending over five years on CVE activities, including partnerships with community groups and internet-engagement activities, such as online counter messaging campaigns that will not help keep our homeland safe.

If House Republicans do not trust Secretary Johnson, who has a poor track record of abusing the rule of law with respect to immigration, then they should have no confidence in his appointed Assistant Secretary, who would not even be confirmed by the Senate.

While the bill deserves to be rejected for the ineffective CVE portion, the inclusion of Senator Cornyn’s already-failed gun control language is also troubling.

For context, less than two weeks ago, Rep. Massie attempted to offer two amendments to the Financial Services and General Government Appropriations Act that would have helped ensure D.C. residents can exercise their given right to keep and bear arms. But House Leadership and the Rules Committee blocked these amendments from being considered by the Republican Majority, even though these same amendments passed the House last year.

In regards to the process, House Leadership is now putting forth a bill, without any committee consideration, impacting American citizens’ Second Amendment rights to have firearms, presumably in an effort to placate Democrats for their floor antics. Such a move essentially rewards Democrats with a debate on gun control after completely upending the regular order of the House.

On the substance of the policy itself, Section 5 of H.R. 5611 is essentially the same language of a Senator Cornyn amendment that was recently rejected by the Senate. As written, there are multiple problems with the language.

The bill assumes that many things will work properly and in a timely fashion.  In reality, they probably won’t, and in some circumstances, probably cannot. What if the FBI doesn’t want it publically known that a person is being, or has been investigated for terrorism in the last five years? Keeping tabs on a known or suspected terrorist is often preferred over swooping in and letting him know the government is “on” to him.

Additionally, the bill is silent with respect to the type of evidence the government must produce at the emergency hearing, or whether that hearing could be conducted (in part) as an ex parte hearing. And the bill is silent with respect to whether the government will be allowed to present classified evidence to the judge (presumably a federal judge), and whether the defense will be able to see unclassified summaries of that evidence. For the average American who now has to retain a lawyer and argue for their Second Amendment rights, they are potentially walking into court without a sufficient basis to defend themselves.

In short, the language falls far short on specifics and may be impracticable to implement. House Leadership should go back to the drawing board before jamming through legislation, out of regular order, that impacts the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens.

In the wake of the Orlando terrorist attack, Congress should absolutely consider legislation to better protect our homeland from jihadi terrorist attacks, Islamist infiltration, and other terrorist threats. If House Republican Leadership is serious about regaining the narrative from a liberal media that is obsessed with gun control, and the House floor from obstructionist Democrats, they should advance legislation that would instead expand access to firearms, so that our law-abiding citizenry can be better armed and prepared to respond to any future terrorist attacks. But creating more bureaucracy and increased gun control is not the right response.

Reports suggest there is wide opposition to this legislation among House Republicans and there are ongoing discussions about changing the language. As currently written, Heritage Action opposes H.R. 5611 and would include it as a key vote on our legislative scorecard. We will evaluate any new potential language as it is made available.

 

Related links:

Heritage Action Scorecard
“Countering Violent Extremism” Bill Is Wrong Response to Orlando Terrorist Attack
The Unmentionable Origins of Terrorism
Key Vote “No” On Revised Collins Gun Control Amendment (H.R. 2578)
Taking Away Constitutional Rights at the Discretion of the Government

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Heritage Action Brief: No More Obama Judicial Confirmations

 

Background: President Obama has consistently shown a lack of regard for the separation of powers laid out in the United States Constitution. His executive overreaches have undermined not only our Constitution and the rule of law, but have also paved the way for progressive politics. Whether the issue is health care, immigration, or second amendment rights, President Obama uses his phone and his pen to enact progressive policies that the American people do not want.

For the most part, President Obama has gotten his way on a number of issues, shielded by liberal federal judges who he and Presidents before him appointed. Entering his eighth year in office, judicial appointments are at the very top of his priority list.

Reasserting Constitutional Prerogatives: Despite the President’s actions, in the last year, the Republican controlled Senate has already allowed the confirmation of 12 federal judges. Overall the President has successfully appointed 55 appeals court judges and 264 district court judges. To put this in perspective, President George W. Bush successfully appointed 62 appeals court judges and 261 district court judges. President Obama is on track to have more judicial nominees confirmed than President Bush.

The President’s damage to our constitution and the rule of law has gone far enough. Senate Republicans must use their constitutional power of confirming federal judges to reassert their constitutional prerogatives and rein in executive overreach.

Conservative Momentum Against Judicial Confirmations: At the end of 2015, Senate Republicans unanimously agreed to hold votes on five district and circuit court nominees in the new year. The first, Third Circuit nominee Luis Felipe Restrepo, was confirmed 82-6 on January 11th. In response, Heritage Action key voted the nomination of Wilhelmina Marie Wright to the Minnesota Supreme Court. This is the same liberal judge who accused President Ronald Reagan of racism and bigotry and took a dim view of property rights.

While the Senate confirmed her nomination on January 19th, 36 Republicans voted against her, demonstrating the growing momentum to stop future nominees. Even Senate Minority leader Harry Reid recognizes the progress. According to Reid, “Powerful right-wing groups announced they’re scoring votes on presidential nominations. In fact…Heritage Action said the Senate should only confirm nominees they deem – they deem, not the senators, but this right-wing cabal – that they deem worthwhile.”

36 “No” votes is a good start, but more work needs to be done. The Senate should no longer confirm any additional non-security nominees under this President in the months ahead.

Claim: Just because President Obama has engaged in executive overreach doesn’t mean Congress should engage in legislative overreach. Two wrongs don’t make a right.

Response: While the President has the power to nominate federal judges, the Constitution clearly gives power to the Senate alone to approve those nominations. In fact the Constitution calls on the President to adhere to the “advice and consent” of the Senate.

“He shall have Power, by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, to make Treaties, provided two thirds of the Senators present concur; and he shall nominate, and by and with the Advice and Consent of the Senate, shall appoint Ambassadors, other public Ministers and Consuls, Judges of the supreme Court, and all other Officers of the United States…”

Our system of government requires each branch to jealously guard its prerogatives, and President Obama routinely tramples over the legislature’s prerogatives. Senators should not stand by idly for the next 12 months. They must act to reassert their separate but equal role in our constitutional system.

Furthermore, there is a long history of the Senate ending consideration of nominees in the last few months before an election. The Thurmond Rule, for example, is an unwritten Senate rule that discourages the confirmation of lifetime judicial appointments during the last 6 months of an outgoing president. Senator Strom Thurmond used it to oppose President Lyndon Johnson’s and President Jimmy Carter’s nominations and Senator Patrick Leahy used it against President Bush during the last year of his presidency. Conservatives should act now by applying the Leahy-Thurmond Rule a few months earlier than is custom in order to restore the balance of powers and limit further executive overreach.

Claim: Senate Republicans have a duty to confirm federal judicial nominees, especially considering so many judicial seats are empty.

Response: While filling judicial seats are important, Senate Republicans have a duty to confirm not just any judicial nominee, but nominees who follow and obey the Constitution. White House chief of staff Denis McDonough admitted in January of 2016, “We’ll do audacious executive action over the course of the rest of the year, I’m confident of that.” The President’s track record has proven he cannot be trusted to obey, or nominate judges who obey, the Constitution.

While many judicial seats are empty, President Obama has filled hundreds of seats over the course of his presidency. In fact, President Obama already has more district court nominees confirmed than President Bush did at the end of his presidency. Every seat filled by an Obama appointee is a seat that can’t be filled by a Republican president.

Claim: Republican attempts to stifle judicial nominations are unprecedented in American history. Only 11 judges were confirmed in 2015, the lowest since 1960.

Response: President Obama’s judicial nominations must be taken in the larger context. President Obama has already successfully appointed 55 appeals court judges and 264 district court judges. President Bush before him successfully appointed 62 appeals court judges and 261 district court judges within his entire 8 years of office. President Obama is on track to have more nominees confirmed than his predecessor.

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