Ohio Food Stamp “Workfare”—What Is The Problem?

Beginning in 2014, Ohio residents without children will have to do work if they want to get food stamps. The Columbus Dispatch reports:

“To qualify for benefits, able-bodied adults without children will be required to spend at least 20 hours a week working, training for a job, volunteering or performing a similar type of activity unless they live in one of 16 counties exempt because of high unemployment. The requirements begin next month; however, those failing to meet them would not lose benefits until Jan. 1. ‘It’s important that we provide more than just a monetary benefit, that we provide job training, an additional level of support that helps put (food-stamp recipients) on a path toward a career and out of poverty,’ said Ben Johnson, spokesman for the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services. For years, Ohio has taken advantage of a federal waiver exempting food-stamps recipients from the work requirements that Kasich championed while U.S. House Budget Committee chairman during the mid-1990s. Kasich and former Rep. Bob Ney, R-Heath, co-sponsored an amendment requiring able-bodied recipients without dependents to work that was included in sweeping welfare-reform legislation adopted in 1996. ‘The governor believes in a work requirement,’ Kasich spokesman Rob Nichols said yesterday. “But when the economy is bad and people are hurting, the waiver can be helpful. Now, fortunately, Ohio’s economy is improving.”

What should rational people think of this?

First, it is probably better to attach the conditions to food stamps than to not do so.

But, second, why use tax-payer funds to do what real life can accomplish without a layer of bureaucrats and revenue collections? People already have a way of getting food in exchange for working hours during the week. It is called: getting a job.

Third, why speak of the economy “getting better” as if people deciding to stay out of the workforce had nothing to do with the bad economy? Maybe the economy would have recovered more quickly if people had been more motivated to find work. We should at least consider that offering unemployed people food makes it easier for them to remain unemployed and not take a job.

This brings us to the real problem: minimum wage law. The only real reason why one needs food stamps in exchange for work is because it is illegal for workers to negotiate with potential employers by offering to work at a lower rate. The government says that an employer must pay no lower than a certain amount for an employee. Thus, people are barred from working and forced into food stamp dependency.

Minimum wage law is also makes “job training” a problem. The best job training happens at work. But, again, many people cannot produce enough to make it profitable for employees to pay for them. Thus, the time in which the employer has a trainee becomes even more expensive to the business. If employees could pay less, then they would provide the training themselves. Instead, we now have the government doing “job training, without any way of knowing what jobs a person should be trained for.

Another problem is that it has become extremely easy to get a diagnosis that one is “disabled” and evade the work requirement altogether. Private charities have an incentive to save their money and make sure their limited resources only go to the truly needy. Government agencies don’t think or act that way.

All this is to say is that requiring work for food stamps might help more than food stamps alone, but such programs are much worse than simply expecting people to take care of themselves.