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Bluegrass Beacon: Reforms free able-bodied from welfare’s sticky web

Editor’s note: The Bluegrass Beacon is a weekly syndicated statewide newspaper column posted on the Bluegrass Institute’s website after being released to and published by newspapers statewide.

Implementation of Gov. Matt Bevin’s most consequential reform – requiring able-bodied adult Medicaid recipients to have “skin in the game,” as the governor famously stated and which resulted in fits of hysteria by many on the political Left – has begun and will be complete by years’ end.

Incentivizing Kentuckians who for far too long have been trapped in the sticky web of welfare dependency to volunteer, study, train or find a job, most of whom would pay no more than $35 a month for health insurance worth hundreds?

Heavens to Betsy! What’s Kentucky coming to these days?

Why, all this talk of moving trapped Kentuckians away from government dependency might be the worst idea since President Clinton signed a welfare-reform bill passed by Newt Gingrich’s Congress in 1996, causing the same political Left to hyperventilate about how poverty, hunger and other social ills would be the resulting plague.

Yet within just five years, that single bipartisan bill resulted in 4 million fewer Americans living in poverty.

Five years of Gingrich-Clinton welfare reform also brought single mothers’ poverty rate to its lowest point in U.S. history while nearly doubling their employment.

This columnist has yet to discover a welfare-to-work program – whether it involves health care, food stamps, direct cash or housing assistance – that hasn’t busted open traps created by well-meaning but disastrous assistance endeavors.

The evidence simply isn’t on the side of do-gooders obsessed with keeping poor Kentuckians firmly planted on government’s teat and who often resort to sensational rhetorical tactics loaded with claims that Bevin’s Medicaid reforms will result in unhealthy lives or worse.

A recent Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA) report notes that after Kansas implemented work requirements for able-bodied adults on food stamps, caseloads dropped by 75 percent and the average amount of time spent on the welfare program was cut in half.

Those relinquishing food stamps altogether earn incomes which more than offset those “lost” benefits.

Incomes for Kansas families who dropped cash-assistance programs more than doubled after a year and nearly tripled after four years.

Former enrollees in Maine’s food-stamp program more than doubled their incomes after their emancipation from welfare, which should be the ultimate purpose of every assistance program whether in Kansas or Kentucky.

If work requirements free Kansans and Mainers from traps of food stamps and cash payments while catapulting them to higher incomes and the hope that comes with such self-sufficiency, the Left has little upon which to base its claims that such reforms – including Bevin’s Medicaid work requirements – are attacks upon poor Kentuckians.

When former Gov. Steve Beshear decided to hitch Kentucky’s train to the mislabeled Affordable Care Act, he issued an executive order expanding Medicaid eligibility, which resulted in a 111 percent increase in enrollment – the nation’s largest – and one in three Kentuckians on the government health-care dole.

These bills are now coming due for Kentucky and all other states that expanded Medicaid under the rightly named Obamacare.

But even if there weren’t an economic need for Bevin’s policy reform, the highest priority – as the governor clearly recognizes – is reducing the toll dependency takes on generations of Kentuckians and their families.

FGA’s report notes that able-bodied parents collecting food stamps without work requirements spend an average of five years in the program with two in five languishing in dependency for more than eight years.

“Getting these able-bodied adults back into the workforce as quickly as possible is essential to putting them back on the path to self-sufficiency and ending the cycle of dependency,” the report said.

Now there’s some hope and change we all can endorse.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at and @bipps.

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