By, Lowman S. Henry,
Chairman CEO of the Lincoln Institute and host of the weekly Lincoln Radio Journal
Among the flurry of bills passed at the end of the legislative session in October was one that established a pathway to prosperity for hundreds of thousands of Pennsylvanians. This opportunity to escape from the plantation of poverty has been shattered by Governor Tom Wolf who vetoed the bill out of fidelity to an immoral belief in perpetual government dependency.
At issue is a requirement for healthy, adult Medicaid recipients without children to find part-time work or participate in job training programs to continue receiving benefits. The goal is to help able-bodied, able-minded adults receive the job training and placement assistance they need to enter or reenter the workforce.
This policy has many benefits. First and foremost it restores financial independence to individuals and helps them gain control over their own lives. As Nathan Benefield of the Commonwealth Foundation explained “work is the most effective way to alleviate poverty.” Government programs, as evidenced by the failed decades-long “war on poverty,” trap people in perpetual dependency rather than foster financial freedom.
Other states, notably Kentucky, Indiana and Arkansas, have received approval from the federal government allowing them to implement Medicaid work requirements. The Commonwealth Foundation points out 17 states have adopted laws requiring able-bodied adults without dependents to work part-time or volunteer part-time to continue receiving food stamps. As a result, program participants in Kansas saw their incomes rise by 127 percent and in Maine food stamp recipients were able to exit the program after their incomes more than doubled.
This would be an especially opportune time for implementing work requirements. Due to the surging Trump economy employers are having a difficult time finding workers to fill available jobs. The Lincoln Institute’s recent Keystone Business Climate Survey found 49% of state businesses have open positions and 28% saying they are having significant difficulty finding qualified employees. So a Medicaid work/job training requirement would have the dual benefit of helping individuals prepare for and find work while supplying employers with workers to fill open positions.
Additionally, moving able-bodied adults into the workforce would then allow the commonwealth to target available resources to those most in need. The bill vetoed by Governor Wolf would actually have prioritized Medicaid funding for children, seniors and for individuals with disabilities. By reducing the number of people on Medicaid it also would have helped ensure adequate funding of the program for years to come.
Given the obvious benefits of this policy why did it end with a Governor Wolf veto? Part of it is politics: Democrats count on the votes of those dependent on social welfare programs. The party’s messaging this election year has been built on scare mongering over health care. The Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, has been an abysmal failure that has resulted in skyrocketing premiums, fewer insurance options, and reduced patient health care choices. Republican efforts to repeal Obamacare and replace it with a system that actually works has become fodder for endless demagoguery by Democrat candidates.
And then there is the continued adherence to a failed ideology by Tom Wolf and his fellow believers in the welfare state. As Arthur Books, President of the American Enterprise Institute so aptly put it in his book The Conservative Heart:
“They treat work as punishment, view struggling people as liabilities to manage, and focus on unequal distribution of incomes instead of unequal and insufficient opportunities. As a result, progressive politicians try to help the poor with government redistribution programs that frequently exacerbate the problem. These intrusions lower opportunity, reduce ability to create actual private sector work, leave more people dependent on the state, and effectively split the country into two Americas even more quickly.”
Brooks concludes: “They have made the poor worse off and that is immoral.”
And so it is.