NCLEJ Opposes Work Requirements For Public Benefits Programs 

As a condition for agreeing to raise the debt ceiling, Republican lawmakers in Congress are demanding tougher work requirements for federal aid programs, including Medicaid and SNAP. We believe this is a dramatic step in the wrong direction.  

Time and again, research reveals that work requirements in benefits programs do not move people into longer-term and better employment, nor do they lift people out of poverty. Instead, they drive vulnerable low-income families off benefits and create massive administrative burden for agencies.  

Imposing a work requirement in programs for food or basic health insurance means that sick and disabled people will starve and get sicker, as happened when Congress reformed welfare law to introduce work requirements in 1996. It is wrong for policymakers to continue to choose a false narrative about accountability for one’s own well-being over the certainty that our communities are better off without starvation, abject thirst, homelessness and poverty. 

Our communities will not improve by making people go without water, food and shelter. Our communities will not be more inclusive if people who are not able to work full-time suffer. Our children will not grow and learn better in poverty, living unhoused and without access to clean water for health and hygiene. Our individual financial pressures will not be relieved by imposing punitive work requirements on more people who are in need.   

Food insecurity during the pandemic declined when existing program rules, including work requirements, were simplified or waved and benefits were boosted. Making the program more accessible and more generous effectively reduced hunger. This is the direction we must go in. We must reduce barriers to accessing public benefits – not raise higher ones. We urge President Biden and lawmakers in Congress to reject demands for tougher work requirements for public benefits during the debt ceiling negotiation.