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Trump Directs Federal Agencies To Strengthen Work Requirements For Public Assistance


President Trump signed another executive order yesterday. He signed it away from TV cameras and without so much as a single tweet. He's directed federal agencies to strengthen work requirements for a range of public assistance programs. NPR's Brakkton Booker reports.

BRAKKTON BOOKER, BYLINE: Advocates for the poor say most people who receive federal public assistance already work. Folks like Kristen Arant - she's a single mother who lives in Ohio with her 11-year-old boy. She receives Medicaid and holds a job as a waitress with no benefits while going to school.

KRISTEN ARANT: I don't have food stamps. I have to go to work, or I don't have money. All I have is Medicaid. And I need to keep my Medicaid, or I won't be able to stay healthy and go to work.

BOOKER: Arant says getting that job was hard. She's recovering from heroin addiction and has a criminal record.

ARANT: Employers are not very quick to work with people who have to go report to probation and parole once a week.

BOOKER: It's unclear how the Trump administration's push to strengthen work requirements might affect her. But she says it would be difficult for her to work more. And she worries if she can't work, she could lose her Medicaid.

ARANT: Thinking about being a full-time college student, caregiving for my son and having to do that with the absence of healthcare - as a person who experiences chronic pain, that thought is gut-wrenchingly terrifying.

BOOKER: The Trump administration basically says it's spending too much money on low-income assistance, $700 billion just last year. It points to an unemployment rate that's hovering just above 4 percent as evidence that the economy is strong. Ben Carson is the secretary of Housing and Urban Development.


BEN CARSON: I think there is a large general sentiment in this country that when jobs are available, work-able people should take those jobs.

BOOKER: Carson says even those who have to sacrifice to hold down a job will find it beneficial in the long run.


CARSON: It is quite apparent in looking at evidence from the past that when work-able individuals are provided the opportunity to work, they tend to require much less in the way of public assistance and tend to continue on an upward trajectory.

BOOKER: Trump is calling on Carson and the secretaries of Labor, Treasury, Agriculture and other agencies to take a fresh look at their public assistance programs. There are already work requirements for most programs, things like SNAP or food stamps, housing assistance and cash welfare. But millions are granted exemptions because they are caring for a relative or enrolled in job training. The administration wants agencies to review who gets those exemptions. Critics, though, say imposing tougher mandates just doesn't work. The real problem, they say, is that many poor people do have jobs, but the wages aren't enough to survive on.

REBECCA VALLAS: Pushing for work requirements is at the core of the Republican strategy to reinforce myths about poverty in America.

BOOKER: Rebecca Vallas is with the progressive-leaning Center for American Progress. She says the administration is painting a negative image of the poor.

VALLAS: That the poor are some stagnant group of people who just don't want to work, that anyone who wants a well-paying job can just snap her fingers and make one appear, and that having a job is all it takes not to be poor.

BOOKER: Trump's executive order gives agencies 90 days to come up with specifics on how they will strengthen work requirements. Brakkton Booker, NPR News, Washington.


Brakkton Booker is a National Desk reporter based in Washington, DC.
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