Assistance programs need to be tightened

By TOM REED and ANDREW GOODELL

Feeding the hungry is one of the ways in which we care for our neighbors, and we encourage you to support local food pantries and organizations which help the needy. As citizens and taxpayers we also support the needy and the programs designed to assist them through our taxes.

Although the federal food stamp program provides support to millions of Americans, well-documented abuses with the program highlight the need for strong and effective reforms to ensure those who truly need assistance are able to receive it. The program also needs to be strengthened in an effort to get employable adults into the workforce and off government assistance.

Unfortunately, ineffective policies in the program have resulted in an open-ended benefit with no requirement for work or job training for almost 4.5 million able-bodied adults without children. This comes at the expense of hard working taxpayers who are paying higher taxes to support this program.

You may have seen the recent report which highlighted a food stamp recipient’s monthly benefit going to support his work-free lifestyle of surfing and playing in a garage band. Other examples abound of able-bodied adults without children using the food stamp program with no intention of looking for work or engaging in job training activities, being content to live off government programs paid for by their hardworking neighbors.

Before 2009, there were strict rules that required able-bodied adults without children to be engaged in work or employment training for a minimum of 20 hours per week in order to qualify for food stamps. These adults were required to take positive steps to break the welfare cycle and become employed and financially independent. The requirement was an effective tool that saved millions of dollars while helping people out of poverty.

Currently, however, there is no work requirement. After eliminating that important requirement, the number of able-bodied adults without children receiving food stamp benefits has grown by 163.7 percent and now accounts for 10.2 percent of the entire caseload. Rather than help these able-bodied adults obtain employment or build the skills necessary to get a job, the program provides an open-ended subsidy paid for by our tax dollars.

The best way to help a person in poverty is to provide the person with the tools, training, and incentive to get a job. Failure to provide the person with any incentive to look for work, engage in job training, or be involved in employment activities is a great disservice to both the person and the taxpayers. It is the wrong approach.

Those who truly care about low-income individuals and families want to help them out of poverty and become financially self-sufficient, not trap them in an unfair system.

The House of Representatives is working to implement needed reforms to make the program more accountable to both beneficiaries and taxpayers. The House will consider a bill to reauthorize the food stamp program and address inadequacies in the current system, including engaging able-bodied adults in work. These reforms will restore integrity to our assistance programs.

The current system is not a fair approach for anyone. Assisting people in obtaining employment helps them, reduces the cost to taxpayers, and supports economic growth. A rising tide lifts all ships, but the current welfare system leaves food stamp recipients treading water. We need to reform this program and the House bill is a giant step forward.

Tom Reed is the U.S. representative for District 23 and Andrew Goodell is the state assemblyman for Chautauqua County.