President Donald Trump has directed his agencies to raise the bar for recipients of food stamps, Medicaid, rent subsidies and other welfare programs, and find ways to put more of them back to work.
In an executive order signed Tuesday afternoon, Trump directed the Departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture and other agencies to make a top-to-bottom review of their safety-net programs, with the goal of finding ways to push more people into the workforce and off of welfare.
“The president cares deeply about getting Americans back to work,” a senior administration official told reporters. “This executive order provides a well-thought-out, coherent framework.”
With Republicans in control of the White House and Congress, conservatives have pushed the administration to take advantage of a rare opportunity to unwind or overhaul assistance programs, which they believe promote dependency and are easy to exploit. But the effort, in the works for months, had stalled amid internal debate at the White House, ultimately took a back seat to infrastructure as a top legislative priority in Congress, leaving conservatives with an executive order.
House Speaker Paul Ryan on Wednesday will attend a breakfast meeting with the president of the National Urban League, Marc Morial, and other black leaders, during which he’ll talk about the need for workforce training to lift people out of poverty.
The federal government spent more than $700 billion on welfare to low-income households in 2017. Food stamps, which are used by about 43 million Americans, and a cash benefit known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which helps about 3.5 million people, are among the programs Trump wants to target.
The order will restore “independence and dignity to millions of Americans,” Trump said in a written statement.
The executive order follows policy shifts already under way at several agencies. In December, the Agriculture Department said it would give states greater control over the food stamp program, opening the door to potential new work requirements or drug testing. The administration has also allowed a few states to introduce work rules for Medicaid under a waiver program, with more approvals expected. At HUD, Secretary Ben Carson has taken a tough-love approach to housing, saying that too much government aid mires people deeper in poverty.
While liberal social-welfare groups digested the Trump order, conservative groups immediately released statements hailing it.
“Despite there being six million open jobs across the nation, there is a record number of able-bodied adults trapped on welfare,” said Tarren Bragdon, president of the Foundation for Government Accountability, a small-government group based in Naples, Florida. “This executive order is a strong signal that the Trump administration intends to change that.”