EITC and child care more effective than drug tests and work requirements
Work requirements for public assistance seem to be all the rage — at both the national and state levels — when other policies would do more to encourage and support work.
President Trump signed an executive order April 10 enhancing enforcement of federal public assistance work requirement laws, evaluation of program effectiveness, and consolidation or elimination of “ineffective” programs. The Trump administration also is considering drug tests for SNAP (Food Stamp) recipients.
Similar legislation in Iowa (Senate File 2370) intended to expand regulations on and further monitor recipients of public assistance in Iowa, but appears to have stalled as the 2018 session nears an end. This included implementing work requirements, drug testing, quarterly reviews of eligibility, and a one-year residency requirement.
The Farm Bill draft released April 12 would reduce or eliminate SNAP benefits for 1 million households, or 2 million recipients, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (CBPP). Work requirements would force able-bodied adults without dependents to prove every month that they work or participate in a training program 20 hours per week. Severe sanctions for noncompliance would cut off benefits for one year the first time — three years the second.
Recent research found recipients under work requirements for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) continued to live below the federal poverty level, and that small increases in employment diminished over time and did not result in stable employment in most cases. In the long term, programs that provide training, skill building, and educational opportunities to recipients are shown to be more successful than only implementing work requirements.
Evidence shows that people in SNAP households who can work do work. More than 80 percent work during the year before or after receiving benefits.
Drug testing public assistance recipients has proven to be costly and frivolous. States that have implemented drug testing found that applicants have lower drug usage rates than the general population. The state of Missouri spent $336,297 in 2015 to test 293 of 31,336 TANF applicants and found only 38 positive results.
Eleven percent of Iowans received public assistance in February of 2018. Already, able-bodied adult without dependents have work requirements to receive SNAP in the state of Iowa.
By contrast, the Earned Income Tax Credit and Child Care Assistance (CCA) are policies that are effective in encouraging work. In addition, Iowa could make changes in work support programs, such as CCA, to reduce what are known as “cliff effects” — when families with a pay raise or a new job are faced with a net loss because a reduction in benefits exceeds the new income.
Policies that support working families, not drug testing and work requirements, would do more to encourage work, raise family incomes, and boost local economies.
 The White House, “Executive Order Reducing Poverty in America by Promoting Opportunity and Economic Mobility.” April 2018. https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/executive-order-reducing-poverty-america-promoting-opportunity-economic-mobility/
 Associated Press, “Drug testing plan considered for some food stamp recipients.” April 2018. https://www.apnews.com/6f5adff5efeb4f9a9075f76bf9cf5572
 IA Legis, “Senate File 2370” February 2018. https://www.legis.iowa.gov/legislation/BillBook?ga=87&ba=SF2370
 House Agriculture Committee “H.R. 2: the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018.” April 2018. 115th Congress. https://agriculture.house.gov/uploadedfiles/agriculture_and_nutrition_act_of_2018.pdf
 Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “Chairman Conaway’s Farm Bill Would Increase Food Insecurity and Hardship.” April 2018. https://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/chairman-conaways-farm-bill-would-increase-food-insecurity-and-hardship#_ftn1
 Urban Institute, “Work Requirements in Social Safety Net Programs.” December 2017. https://www.urban.org/sites/default/files/publication/95566/work-requirements-in-social-safety-net-programs.pdf
 Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “Work Requirements Don’t Cut Poverty, Evidence Shows.” June 2016. https://www.cbpp.org/research/poverty-and-inequality/work-requirements-dont-cut-poverty-evidence-shows
 Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “Making SNAP Work Requirements Harsher Will Not Improve Outcomes for Low-Income People.” March 2018. https://www.cbpp.org/research/food-assistance/making-snap-work-requirements-harsher-will-not-improve-outcomes-for-low
 Center on Law and Social Policy, “Drug Testing SNAP Applicants is Ineffective and Perpetuates Stereotypes.” July 2017. https://www.clasp.org/sites/default/files/publications/2017/08/Drug-testing-SNAP-Applicants-is-Ineffective-Perpetuates-Stereotypes.pdf
 Iowa Department of Human Services, “Food Assistance Report Series F-1.” March 2018. http://publications.iowa.gov/27299/1/FA-F1-2016%202018-03.pdf
 Iowa Department of Human Services, “ABAWD Letter.” September 2017. https://dhs.iowa.gov/sites/default/files/470-3967.pdf
 Peter S. Fisher and Lily French, Iowa Policy Project: Reducing Cliff Effects in Iowa Child Care Assistance, March 2014. https://www.iowapolicyproject.org/2014docs/140313-CCA-cliffs.pdf
Natalie Veldhouse is a research associate at the nonpartisan Iowa Policy Project.