President Trump signed an executive order on Tuesday directing that low-income recipients of food assistance, Medicaid, and low-income housing subsidies need to be in the workforce to remain eligible for benefits. The executive order, “Reducing Poverty in America and Increasing Economic Mobility,” is directed at, “any program that provides means-tested assistance or other assistance that provides benefits to people, households or families that have low incomes.”

It provides nine “Principles of Economic Mobility,” which will guide agencies that administer public assistance programs to effectively reform the welfare system. The direction in the executive order states that the welfare system should be reformed to:

  • Improve employment outcomes and economic independence
  • Promote marriage and family as a way of escaping poverty
  • Address the challenges of hard-to-employ populations
  • Provide more flexibility to states, while ensuring accountability for achieving outcomes
  • Streamline services to more effectively use taxpayer resources
  • Reserve benefits for those truly in need
  • Consolidate duplicative programs
  • Facilitate greater sharing of information between states and localities
  • Empower the private sector to find solutions to poverty

The order calls for states to examine and strengthen current work requirements and ensure that only eligible people receive benefits. The order gives all cabinet departments 90 days to produce plans that impose work requirements on able-bodied aid recipients and block ineligible immigrants from receiving aid, while drafting “a list of recommended regulatory and policy changes” to move recipients into jobs.

The order directs federal agencies that administer public assistance programs to:

  • Review all regulations and guidance documents relating to work
  • Ensure such regulations and documents are consistent with the principles for reform
  • Send a report to the president on what they can do to get Americans back to work
  • Take steps to implement such recommendations

Additionally, the order states that the federal government should review current federally funded workforce development programs and, where more than one agency administers a program or programs that are “similar in scope or population served,” those programs should be consolidated under the agency that is ‘best equipped to fulfill the expectations” of the program. In addition, “ineffective” programs should be eliminated.

Many of the initiatives outlined have already been set into motion by the affected agencies, particularly the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), which has begun issuing waivers to Republican governors who want to impose stricter work requirements on Medicaid recipients.

The Alliance for Strong Families and Communities Public Policy Office was invited to join a call with Steven Wagner, acting assistant secretary at HHS’ Administration for Children and Families to discuss the Reducing Poverty in America executive order. During the call, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program was called out as a priority for reform, noting the administration’s interest in realigning work requirements to better engage those in need of job assistance. Programs to help train and get people with disabilities back to work was also noted as a priority, as well as creating a uniform definition of work and exemptions. 

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