The Case For The Debt-Ceiling Deal’s Work Requirements

Some prominent Republicans are raising concerns about the deal to raise the debt ceiling that House Speaker Kevin McCarthy and President Joe Biden struck over Memorial Day weekend. One hang-up some conservatives have is the insufficient amount of provisions stipulating that individuals must engage in employment, job training, or community service to qualify for certain government-assistance programs. Expanded work requirements were a must-have for Republican negotiators on the Hill. While the deal conditions Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWD) between 18 and 54 upon work, some argue this doesn’t go far enough, asserting that we must implement work requirements in Medicaid.

This concern is misplaced. Imposing work requirements for Medicaid is a bad idea. When Arkansas became the first state to implement work requirements in Medicaid, it failed to increase the state employment rate and led to adverse consequences for low-income individuals, including problems paying off medical debt and delayed health-care access.

Patrick T. Brown, a fellow at the conservative Ethics and Public Policy Center, where he specializes in family policy, has a different view of the work requirements. Brown believes that education or work/volunteer requirements for ABAWDs are politically popular and make a good deal of sense but are no panacea.

“If implemented improperly, [work requirements] can make it difficult for people who are eligible for benefits to jump through the administrative hoops,” Brown told National Review. “But the principle they seek to embody is a straightforward and important one; those adults, especially able-bodied ones without dependents, should contribute to society in the form of work or community service in exchange for public benefits. That approach strikes most Americans as common sense.”

Brown is right. The work requirements stipulated in the deal restore fairness and promote reciprocity in safety-net programs without going too far. They empower individuals and emphasize the value of contributing to society in exchange for aid. They are worthy of Republican support. 


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