Rep. Garret Graves, R-La., spoke to The Daily Signal’s Rachel Del Guidice earlier this month about his bill that would implement work requirements for those dependent on food stamps. The following is an edited transcript of the interview:
Del Guidice: Earlier this year you introduced a bill for work requirements for recipients of food stamps. Tell us a little bit about that bill, what it does.
Graves: Sure. We looked at models and what happened in pilot programs in Alabama, in Kansas, and in Maine. And there were some extraordinary success stories about how they were able to transition people from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP, into the workforce.
For example, in Alabama, in 11 counties where they tried this out, what they did is they transitioned about 85 percent of the people off of the SNAP program. In Kansas when they did this, they were able to incorporate 60 percent of work-capable individuals into the workforce. Exactly what we all seek. And of course it’s great for taxpayers and it’s great for those that are unemployed.
And then in Maine, looking at the way that they did it and extrapolating that program with some other modifications at the federal level, we believe we could save somewhere between $8-9, maybe even more, billion per year. Huge things for taxpayers.
So the bill is modeled after those pilot programs and it would simply connect job assistance programs and job training opportunities with those that are on the SNAP program, those that are unemployed, or impoverished, and dependent on government programs. So helping get people into the workforce, helps improve livelihood, improve health care, improve outcomes, and save taxpayers’ dollars. It really is a win-win-win opportunity.
Del Guidice: And you just finished up a panel here at The Heritage Foundation, our viewers can watch that at Heritage.org. You mentioned how work requirements, how incentivizing work is so needed in today’s world where we don’t incentivize work. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Graves: We were just with Congressman Jim Jordan and Congressman Jason Smith, and Congressman Smith was talking about nearly the $25 trillion that we’ve spent as a nation. Let’s keep in mind that is taxpayers’ dollars, hardworking taxpayers’ dollars. That’s $25 trillion we’ve spent over decades trying to fight this war on poverty, when effectively it has been a lost war. We have more people in poverty today.
So the idea is that we are not incentivizing work anymore in this country. That was an incentive in America, in our young nation. That you incentivize people to work, and that’s what caused us to become the most successful nation. Our citizens literally out-worked other countries. And so we’ve transitioned from that to incentivizing people to not work, by making it lucrative to be dependent upon government programs.
So the work requirement connects people with job opportunities, connects to job training, and it helps to change that incentive from not working to incentivizing people to actually work. And this is more than just about getting people off of government programs, you have people that are stuck generation after generation in a cycle of poverty. If we can put them on a pathway to prosperity, it is not just about income. You can look at studies that show improved livelihoods, that show improved health care, they show overall improved outcomes for these people. And breaking that cycle for future generations, it’s a huge opportunity here. And again, this isn’t some dream. This is modeled after successful pilot programs in states. So we’re really excited about this.
Del Guidice: In 2009, I believe, the Obama administration did away with the work requirements. And how do you answer push back from people who don’t want to see work requirements come back? How do you respond to that?
Graves: First of all, I think it’s important to note that those work requirements were put in place in ’96, that President [Bill] Clinton agreed with it, that Sen. Ted Kennedy agreed with it, and understood that the importance of that, of incentivizing people to work. And you can look at the success that occurred after the implementation of the ’96 welfare reform.
In 2009, President [Barack] Obama demanded that the work requirement be waived, 37 states, even today, still have a waiver in place. And that is when we saw the spike. So let me give you a few numbers: In 2000, you had approximately 17 million people that were dependent on the SNAP program. Today, it’s nearly 46 million people. In terms of financials, back around 2000 it was around $20 billion a year being spent. And it has absolutely exploded to an excess of $80 billion today.
So this isn’t a partisan issue, it doesn’t matter if you’re impoverished, if you’re a liberal, if you’re conservative, if you’re making high income. This really does benefit everyone. Because it benefits those that are unemployed, or those that are impoverished by giving them more opportunities and connecting them to the program and skills they need to get back into the workforce. And if you’re paying for these programs, it helps us to dedicate those limited tax dollars to other national priorities: reducing the debt, addressing infrastructure, and other things we need to be doing as a country.
Del Guidice: Yeah, we’re not just throwing away free money. We’re saying we want to help out our society here by doing this. I think you introduced this bill in June, what are the chances of it passing this year? Could it be tacked on to any major legislation? What are the chances of that happening in 2017?
Graves: I think in 2017, with the limited time we have, with our focus on tax and other things, it’s going to be difficult to do in 2017. But as you know, we’re likely going to be moving on a farm bill next year. There’s always been this connectivity between farm bill and food nutrition programs for the welfare programs.
And so, what we’re doing is we’re working to demonstrate broad support for this concept and building upon these models to where if they continue to have the connection between the two that we would have the opportunity to have real fundamental reform. And really address better outcomes, to where you give the impoverished a pathway for prosperity and we help to free up these tax dollars to address true priorities like deficit reduction, addressing infrastructure needs, and other things that our country is falling behind on.
Del Guidice: Well, Congressman, final question, today is a big day for the House because it is going to vote on tax reform. Do you think we’re going to see that become law by Christmas, as Trump is saying?
Graves: I’ll be very candid. I think this thing is going to pass out of the House, I think we’re going to have a good vote. I’m not sure that Americans fully appreciate how historic this is. This is an opportunity to just light the fire under the U.S. economy. To really improve our competitiveness. To help provide more economic opportunities. To help improve the health of the U.S. economy. This is something that truly can help every single American that’s out there.
My optimism about what’s going to happen in the Senate has dropped a little bit in recent days, looking at some of the concerns expressed by a few senators. But I still think that overall, everyone understands the importance of getting this done. In terms of really igniting the economy, really helping improve the health of the economy, and really raising wages giving us more employment choices. Huge, huge opportunity. I do think we can get this done by Christmas.