By Rep. Dusty Johnson
March 17, 2023
I was that kid on food stamps—I know firsthand how government assistance can both help and hurt. Education, training, and work provide dignity and economic opportunity. Too many Americans are on the sidelines while we are facing a record labor shortage.
We have the jobs, but we don’t have the people to fill them. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this problem, but there are policy areas where government is hurting, rather than helping Americans re-enter the workforce.
During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government waived all existing work requirements for government assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). In the fog of war, this made sense. Government was right to not stand in the way of getting food benefits to Americans who lost their jobs because of the pandemic—quickly.
However, we are three years removed from 2020 and these blanket waivers have gone on far too long. Long before the pandemic, work requirements for welfare programs like SNAP had been abused. As we approach the end of the COVID-19 Emergency Authorization and previous laws go back into effect, it’s past time for reform. It’s time for my bill, the America Works Act.
Under existing law, Able-Bodied Adults Without Dependents (ABAWDs) are required to work or participate in work-related training or education for at least 20 hours per week in order to receive SNAP benefits. Unfortunately, states have long abused waivers for ABAWDs that allow them to suspend these very modest work requirements.
When the idea of work requirements gets brought up in Congress, many of my colleagues on the other side are quick to call out Republicans for seeking to take away benefits from single mothers with young children and disabled Americans—that is not accurate.
1.36 million ABAWD households recorded zero gross income in 2020—if you have no children, no disabilities, no dependents, and no job—what are you doing with your day? People who can work, should work. Especially if they expect to receive government assistance.
The America Works Act is simple. It restores the integrity of the SNAP state exemption waiver process by repealing language where the United States Department of Agriculture can simply grant a waiver for work requirements if a state “believes” it doesn’t have enough jobs to provide employment to an individual. There are nearly 11 million open jobs in the United States, I’d challenge any state to prove with data the “belief” that they can’t find an American a job. Additionally, states can currently roll over their waivers from year to year. This has allowed states to rack up thousands of waivers, further abusing the program—my bill removes this rollover provision.
The America Works Act also changes age eligibility for SNAP waivers. Currently, if you are over 49 years old, you can receive SNAP benefits with no need for a waiver. As I approach 49 years old, I know I still have decades left of work ahead of me. My bill changes the maximum age rate of an ABAWD to be 65 years old, consistent with retirement and Medicare age.
Finally, the America Works Act limits the provision that exempts ABAWDs from work requirements if they have any dependent children to if they have any dependent children under the age of seven years old. By seven years old a child is in school nearly 35 hours a week. If a child can go to school nearly full-time, a parent with no other children under the age of seven can work 20 hours per week.
This bill is commonsense—and it continues to leave waivers in place for areas with certain levels of unemployment.
As Congress weighs solutions to our labor crisis, record government spending, and work requirements in the 2023 Farm Bill, I hope the America Works Act is strongly considered as a solution to lift Americans out of poverty and encourage work rather than government dependence.