Trump releases executive order calling for work requirements, elimination of workforce programs

By Kermit Kaleba, April 11, 2018

Last night, President Trump signed an Executive Order calling for new work requirements across a broad range of means-tested public assistance programs, and further calling for the consolidation or elimination of federal workforce development programs.

The order criticizes federal public assistance programs, suggesting that they “trap” individuals in poverty, and requires the Secretaries of the Treasury, Agriculture, Commerce, Labor, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Transportation, and Education to undertake a review process over the next 90 days to a) review all current regulations and guidance relating to waivers or exemptions to work requirements in programs under their jurisdiction; b) review all public assistance programs that do not require work as a condition of eligibility, and determine whether a work requirement could be imposed; and c) review all public assistance programs that do require work as a condition of eligibility and determine whether enforcement of those requirements is consistent with a set of “economic mobility” principles set forth in the order. Upon completion of the review, the agencies must submit recommendations to the Office of Management and Budget for regulatory and policy changes to programs that will strengthen work requirements; agencies must then take steps to implement those proposed changes within 90 days of submitting the recommendations.

The order also 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.

The White House has already taken several steps to encourage work requirements in public assistance programs, including urging states to impose work requirements on Medicaid recipients, and requesting public comments on potential regulatory changes under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that would reduce state flexibility around work requirements for certain SNAP recipients. The President has also included recommendations for funding cuts and program changes to public assistance programs in his budget proposals for both Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 and FY 2019, as well as steep cuts to federal workforce programs, although Congress largely ignored those recommendations, and in fact increased funding for key workforce programs in the recent FY 2018 omnibus appropriations package.

Congressional Republicans have also been aggressively promoting the imposition of work requirements across a means-tested federal programs: the House Ways and Means Committee will hold a hearing tomorrow that is widely expected to lay out the case for stronger work requirements under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, and the House Agriculture Committee is expected to release a Farm Bill reauthorization legislation as early as this week that calls for much more stringent work requirements on SNAP participants.

National Skills Coalition strongly opposes these efforts to expand work requirements, which have demonstrated little impact in increasing employment or reducing poverty, but have led to reduced access to critical income supports for millions of low-income workers and their families. We also strongly oppose efforts to eliminate or consolidate federal workforce programs that have helped U.S. businesses and workers obtain the skills and credentials needed to succeed in today’s economy. In the coming weeks, we will be highlighting opportunities for state and local advocates to weigh in against ineffective work requirements, and encouraging policymakers to focus instead on strengthening access to education and training to move more low-income workers into well-paying jobs and out of poverty.