Creating Barriers to Public Assistance is Not the Pathway to Work

President Trump’s latest case for requiring low-income federal benefit recipients to work or else lose that support, exposes once again the immorality and disregard of the Trump/Republican policy agenda. The White House’s claim that the War on Poverty is “largely over” blatantly ignores the struggles faced by 140 million poor and low-income Americans. Their desire to punish low-income people apparently knows no boundaries, as they attempt to take away housing, health care, and food security from families facing financial hardship.

After handing out enormous tax cuts to corporations and the richest among us, the Trump administration and Congress now seek to slash spending on struggling families, by imposing harsh work requirements on social insurance programs such as Medicaid, HUD housing programs, and food assistance. They aim to cut fundamental safety net programs, chiseling away with every tool they have, including by creating eligibility barriers and lifetime limits.

They claim to be doing so in the name of workforce development. But if this administration truly wants to invest in helping people get quality jobs, it would support measures to improve job quality by raising the minimum wage and strengthening overtime pay protections, instead of robbing families in need of health care, food security, housing, unemployment insurance, or other essential supports.

But if this administration truly wants to invest in helping people get quality jobs, it would support measures to improve job quality by raising the minimum wage and strengthening overtime pay protections, instead of robbing families in need of health care, food security, housing, unemployment insurance, or other essential supports.

Work requirements are just one of many ways this extreme agenda chips away at families’ life-saving benefits. For many, finding a quality job is just not possible. Pockets of the country continue to have high unemployment rates, and in many communities, quality jobs simply do not exist or are not accessible. Many of today’s jobs are part-time or do not offer consistent schedules or hours. And for many Americans, hiring barriers persist. A 2017 study revealed that hiring discrimination rates against African Americans and Latinos have remained virtually unchanged over the past 25 years.

Structural racism contributes to a disproportionate number of black Americans living in poverty. While comprising only 13 percent of the population, African Americans make up 22 percent of our poor and are about 2.5 times as likely to be in poverty as whites. Structural racism created this disparity, causing income and wealth gaps, discrimination, downward mobility, and higher rates of unemployment. Further cuts to these social insurance programs will only exacerbate the effects of racism.

Today, politicians’ long history of using race to stigmatize these programs continues to echo out from the halls of Congress and from televisions and social media. Dog-whistle terms like “welfare” tap into racist myths, with politicians hoping implicit (and explicit) bias will lead white constituents to cheer for cuts. Never mind that social insurance programs sustain our society, and that the majority of resources actually go to white families.

Suggesting that the only reason people are not working is because their life-saving program has not been taken away is absurd. There is no evidence that taking away economic security helps people gain employment. In fact, the opposite is true. When people have health care, housing, food security, or unemployment insurance, they are more likely, not less, to be equipped to find employment.

When people have health care, housing, food security, or unemployment insurance, they are more likely, not less, to be equipped to find employment.

With rising income-and-wealth inequality, it is hard to believe the American people would accept cuts to programs that help to alleviate the real dangers of poverty—especially when we are doing so in order to pay for tax breaks for corporations and the wealthy. We call for an end to these despicable cuts and urge policy makers to invest more in these programs, not less, recognizing the value they bring to our communities.


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