The Fiscal Responsibility Act, a bipartisan deal struck by President Joe Biden and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy to raise the debt ceiling until 2025, has stirred debate and drawn attention for its approach to work requirements in several major welfare programs1.
The Act’s approach to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), for instance, has been viewed with concern from a conservative perspective. The provisions in the Act are seen as diluting existing work requirements, altering the original design of TANF, and moving the program in a direction that could increase dependency rather than promoting self-sufficiency. Critically, the bill does not significantly reduce the number of idle, work-free recipients, which is a key to strengthening work requirements1.
The original TANF program successfully reduced welfare caseloads and child poverty while increasing employment through its emphasis on work requirements. It also played a role in strengthening family structures by making welfare less attractive compared to marriage and employment. The Biden-McCarthy deal, however, seems to deviate from these principles, especially in sections 302 and 304, which are viewed as transforming TANF into an expensive job-training program for single parents1.
The Act’s provisions on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) are a mixed bag. On the positive side, the Act lowers the state-level discretionary exemption rate and introduces a new reporting requirement for state applications for geographic-area waivers. These changes could potentially lead to better control and transparency in the program. However, there’s room for improvement, such as making the new age limit for work requirements permanent1.
Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the Fiscal Responsibility Act from a conservative standpoint is its approach to Medicaid. The Act removes work requirements for able-bodied adults, a provision that was previously included in the House-passed Limit, Save, Grow Act. This change is viewed as a missed opportunity to encourage self-sufficiency and responsibility among Medicaid recipients1.
In sum, while the Fiscal Responsibility Act contains some positive changes, it falls short of the conservative vision for welfare reform that emphasizes work requirements, personal responsibility, and self-sufficiency. The Act’s approach to TANF and Medicaid, in particular, raises concerns about the future direction of these critical safety-net programs.