Today, the Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development, chaired by Rep. Brett Guthrie (R-KY), held a hearing on “Strengthening Access and Accountability to Work in Welfare Programs.”
“More than 50 million people in the U.S. have participated in major means-tested government assistance programs, and the work requirements associated with many of these programs have allowed many Americans to find a pathway back into the workforce because they gained the ability to be self-sufficient through the process,” said Chairman Guthrie in his opening statement.
Subcommittee Chairman Guthrie continued, “Since the creation of this program [Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, also known as TANF] in 1996, there has been a sharp decline in the number of federal benefit recipients who must complete work requirements as part of their participation in a federal program . . . Right now, we are looking for ways to reform our entitlement system, which is failing certain beneficiaries who feel stuck in the status quo. An important part of this effort is helping people reenter the workforce.”
Members of the subcommittee heard from witnesses about the best ways to strengthen the path from federal assistance to employment, including Mr. Robert Doar, a Morgridge Fellow in Poverty Studies at the American Enterprise Institute.
“Estimates suggest that between 9.5 and 11 million SNAP [Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program] recipients between ages 18 and 59 and not disabled reported no earnings in their household in Fiscal Year 2016, accounting for 62 percent of this group. This means that in the context of a relatively strong economy, millions of SNAP recipients still reported no work,” Doar testified.
Doar went on to say that “the social safety net in this country serves an important purpose. Research shows that it reduces poverty and has positive impacts on child and adult well-being. But we have a responsibility to ensure that employment remains the primary way families support themselves, and that government programs do not impede this goal.”
Ms. Liz Carver, the Workforce Development Program Division Director for the Utah Department of Workforce Services, described what her state has done to align their federal assistance system with Utah’s employment resources.
“When someone needs to apply for SNAP or Medicaid, they do it through an online portal on JOBS.utah.gov where job-seeking services are readily available. When someone needs face-to-face service for public assistance program eligibility, they come to one location, an American Job Center, where employers are often on site recruiting for available jobs, and our staff engage citizens in work and education opportunities. When a TANF customer needs child care support to obtain and maintain employment, we are able to more easily connect the dots quickly and assist in removing barriers because our programs work together,” Carver said.
Mr. Adam Meier, the Deputy Chief of Staff for Policy for Kentucky’s Governor, closed his testimony by explaining that not only should our federal assistance programs emphasize employment, but that education is also an important part of the puzzle.
“There are typically two roads out of poverty: education and employment. A number of our safety net programs incentivize work, but fail to support individuals’ pursuit of an education—even though program beneficiaries often lack the basic education they need to be competitive in the workplace,” Meier said. “If supports such as transportation and childcare assistance are made available while an individual is attending school or receiving training [we call it ‘the t-word’], it will allow that individual to be put on a path toward a career in a high-demand employment sector.”
Our federal assistance programs have the ability to serve as a launching pad to employment and financial independence. The Subcommittee on Higher Education and Workforce Development will continue to explore ways to strengthen Americans’ path to self-sufficiency.
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