WASHINGTON – On Wednesday, October 28, the House Committee on the Budget hosted a hearing entitled “Restoring the Trust for America’s Most Vulnerable.”
A recurring theme throughout testimony and questions was the need for work requirements for able-bodied, working age adults receiving government assistance. During questions, Congressman Bruce Westerman (AR-04) stated his support for work requirements.
“I believe that getting Americans back to work and out of poverty is the main key in unlocking our economy, which is critical to rectifying our fiscal deficiencies and our out of control debt,”Westerman said. “I believe work is what we can use to pull people out of a pool of poverty. I believe our current federal policies are such that we are turning a pool into an ocean with a tide that’s pulling people further out to sea. As I travel my district and talk to employers, I get a consistent disturbing message – they have job openings that start well above minimum wage that they just can’t fill.”
The problem, Westerman said, is federal policy that creates a system of dependency and does not reward work for those seeking to rise out of poverty and government assistance.
“We incentivize not working to provide just enough of a net to keep individuals afloat but we’re not meeting them where they are so they can get get off the net and on their feet,” Westerman said, calling attention to Medicaid expansion in Arkansas, which provides fully-subsidized health insurance to able-bodied, working age individuals with no income.
A bill introduced by Westerman in February, the State Flexibility and Workforce Requirement Act of 2015 (H.R. 886), would give states flexibility to set parameters for able-bodied, working age adults receiving Medicaid.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (MD-08), ranking Democrat on the committee, said “the best anti-poverty program is a job” during Wednesday’s hearing. He called attention to past efforts that would have taken people from government assistance and not working to a job that could support a family.
“Unfortunately, despite our best efforts, we’ve not gotten support for some of the measures we put forward to do exactly that,” Van Hollen added.
Larry Woods, executive director of the Housing Authority of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, testified about his experiences with residents receiving government assistance. Woods noted a broken federal policy which incentivizes not working and creates generational poverty.
“Our current system is broken, plain and simple,” Woods said. “It’s broken because our approach is flawed. Representatives, it’s not about throwing more money at this problem. It’s not about pulling money away from this problem. It’s about implementing policies that actually provide a positive exit strategy for getting people out of the safety net. Right now, there is no exit strategy. … It is a life and expectation of entitlement that has been created. This expectation is passed on from one generation to the next.”