With more than seven million open jobs and employers that are desperate for workers, the American Dream has never been more within reach to the millions of able-bodied adults trapped on welfare today.
Yet rather than celebrate proven policy reforms that quickly move people from welfare to work, there is a coordinated campaign underway to undermine work — and welfare work requirements — for able-bodied adults. The misinformation campaign is intentionally ignoring the positive story of work requirements: They lift able-bodied adults out of dependency quickly, increase incomes and save taxpayers billions of dollars.
The implementation of these same work requirements in the Medicaid program is a commonsense — and imperative — reform. The number of able-bodied adults dependent on Medicaid has exploded since Obamacare became law, exceeding all projections. Medicaid expansion turned a program originally designed for the truly needy, individuals with disabilities, the poor elderly, and very poor families and their children into a welfare program for able-bodied adults.
In 2000, there were only 7 million able-bodied adults on the program. Today, that number has ballooned to 28 million. Total spending for this population jumped from $19 billion to $158 billion per year over the same time, threatening state budgets across the country.
The unemployment rate is lower today than it was in 2000, but more than half of these able-bodied adults on Medicaid do not work, at all.
It’s clear that something doesn’t add up, and 11 states have taken steps to address this problem with work.
The results speak for themselves: In Arkansas, 55 percent of able-bodied adults on Medicaid did not work at all before work requirements were implemented. Less than three months after the reform was implemented, 62 percent on those subject to the work requirement are working at least 80 hours a month, training or looking for work. Enrollment of able-bodied Arkansans on Medicaid has dropped by 20,000 since earlier this year.
That’s a dramatic turnaround in just a quarter — and it’s all thanks to work requirements.
By no measure is Arkansas’ welfare work requirement extreme. Of the state’s 270,000 adults enrolled in Medicaid expansion, only 34,000 are currently subject to the work requirement.
The requirement only applies to able-bodied adults between ages 19 and 49 with no kids in the home — anyone with kids at home, with any type of disability, in drug or alcohol treatment, or with a short-term incapacitation is exempted.
And Arkansas is bending over backward to help make sure people who must comply with the requirement are easily able to do so.
For an able-bodied Arkansan, finding a part-time job is not a difficult proposition right now. A popular online job site lists more than 27,000 open jobs in Arkansas, where the unemployment rate is 3.7 percent, nearly an all-time low. Need more proof? There are 5,000 well-paying truck driver jobs vacant in Arkansas right now, and individuals can get their trucking license through paid internship programs.
But this reality is being ignored by pro-dependency lobbyists and groups like an LA times columnist and the left-wing D.C.-based think tank that have been aggressive in damning these commonsense work requirements.
The truth is that for all of the fear-mongering that these groups have spread, work requirements work. And voters want them: In Arkansas, 70 percent of all voters support work requirements in Medicaid, including a majority of Democratic voters.
Arkansas voters know — like the majority of the American public — that work is not punishment. Work is a powerful antidote to so many problems our society faces, from drug addiction, to child abuse and neglect, to generational poverty. Every job is important, and we should all “honor the dignity of work.”
• Sam Adolphsen is the vice president of executive affairs for the Foundation for Government Accountability.