Shaquita Ogleetree
On October 15, the Hamilton Project, the Brookings Institution and the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities co-hosted a forum to explore work requirements and the role of anti-poverty programs. The Hamilton Project released its economic analysis report on how work requirements in Medicaid and SNAP affect the goals of a social safety net.

The event comes against a backdrop of recent House and Administration efforts to add or increase work requirements across a range of programs including nutrition, health care and housing programs.

The forum featured remarks from Professor Jason Furman, Harvard Kennedy School and Robert Greenstein, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. A panel included Marquita Numan, Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, Sharon Parrott, Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Professor Diane Schanzenbach, Northwestern University, Michael Tanner, Cato Institute and Catherine Rampell, Washington Post as moderator.

The President’s executive order in April 2018 and HHS actions to expand work requirements for those receiving Medicaid are some of the efforts underway that would remove health care and food assistance from people who do not meet the criteria. Fourteen states have submitted waivers for expansion of Medicaid work requirements with HHS approving four state’s plans including the state of Arkansas which has fully implemented the requirements. The stalled House reauthorization of the Farm Bill expanded the scope of work requirements for those receiving SNAP benefits.

According to the Hamilton project report, Work Requirements and Safety Net Programs, the majority of SNAP and Medicaid participants who would be exposed to new work requirements are those aged 18-49 with children (ages 6-17); those between the ages of 50 and 59 with no child under the age of 6, as well as adults aged 18-49 with no dependents. The report indicates that people who are not working are not working because of job-related concerns and health issues and not due to a lack of interest in working. The purpose behind work requirements should be to enable people to thrive however some of the work requirements being promoted are not practical due to administrative inefficiency to move people into the labor force. Sharon Parrott stated that public programs do a poor job of protecting exempted people and gave the example of work requirements under TANF and how the process of administering the program was unsuccessful.

Implementation of these new Medicaid work requirements in Arkansas has pushed approximately 5,000 people off of Medicaid simply due to technology barriers. Medicaid participants are required to utilize an online portal to submit documentation. As a rural state, many households do not have internet access. The administrative complexities and awareness of work requirements have created additional barriers for participants, and many have lost coverage. Ms. Numan iterated that work requirements ignore or fail to address poverty.

Mr. Tanner proposed better alternatives than work requirements –economic growth, reform in criminal justice, education, expansion of the earned income tax credit (EITC) for single individuals, and the EITC for Medicaid and SNAP participants. Another suggestion was to raise the minimum wage which would create a higher incentive.

To read the paper by the Hamilton Project on Work Requirements and Safety Net Programs, click here.