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Encouraging a return to work

Whether you’re working on the farm, running your small business or taking care of your family, Missourians wake early every day and work diligently to make ends meet. But not everyone has the resources they need to both put food on the table and keep the lights on in the house. My whole life, my grandparents never had running water. If we wanted to wash our hands, get water to boil potatoes or water to take a bath, we had to go pump the water we needed out of a cistern in the yard. This is how I grew up. But, with the right tools, it’s a cycle that can be broken.

My grandparents would be so proud to know that their grandson meets regularly with the President of the United States. They would be proud, but they wouldn’t be surprised, because we believed in the American dream in which every American is given the opportunity to improve upon the lot they are given. The problem is that for many that dream has become a subsistence of living off of government support programs rather than using that support to get additional job training skills and reengage in the workforce.

Many Americans are doing the back of the envelope math to realize they are better off staying on government welfare assistance than getting a job or taking a raise at work. That’s not how it should be. Many of these men and women are perfectly capable of working, but simply choose not to. As of January 2018, over 42 million individuals participated in government food assistance known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), representing a more than 50% increase since 2008. Simply put, government welfare enrollment is at a record high for able-bodied adults in America, despite near-record low unemployment in most places. Since passage of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, over 600,000 new jobs have been created and the unemployment rate is at 4.1%, its lowest level since the turn of the century, but businesses are facing labor shortages as more folks find it profitable to sit on the sidelines and collect the government dime than they do to clock in an eight hour work day.

One of my very first actions in Congress was pushing for work requirements to be included as a part of the SNAP benefits we give to Americans, not because its uncompassionate, but rather the opposite, there is dignity in a day’s work, and we must make sure that government programs don’t punish needy families who are trying to climb the economic ladder. As is, we currently have a government support program which is actually encouraging people to stay dependent on the government. That doesn’t make sense. The U.S. House of Representatives will soon consider the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 – better known as the “Farm Bill”. Contained in there will finally be a requirement that able bodied adults between the ages of 18 and 59, capable of working, participate for at least 20hrs per week in either work or work training in order to be eligible to receive government welfare benefits.

We must focus on not just giving a hand out to those in need, but giving them a hand up and helping our fellow Americans climb out of the cycle of poverty. With these reforms, more than 4 million able bodied individuals who collect government support checks, but simply chose not to work or seek the skills to work, would be responsible themselves for finding work or job training. We should be looking for solutions like this to encourage folks to get back, stand on their own two feet and contribute versus sitting on the sidelines and continuing to collect scarce taxpayer support.

While living in poverty is a reality for many, it is not something that cannot be changed. Adding sensible work requirements as a qualifier to receiving government assistance is an important and compassionate component of helping folks provide for their family and future on their own. Along with the support of President Trump, we are making major changes to economic mobility in America, and making it possible for people to once again, realize the American dream for themselves.

Jason Smith

Jason Smith

This report was filed April 27, 2018

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