Trump Issues Executive Order to Require Federal Aid Recipients to Work

Last week, President Donald Trump quietly issued an executive order directing a wide swath of federal agencies, including the Departments of Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Agriculture, and Education, to review and develop rules for “any program that provides means-tested assistance or other assistance that provides benefits to people, households, or families that have low incomes” requiring beneficiaries to work or lose their benefits. The executive order has been in the works by the Trump Administration for nearly the past year and seeks to vastly restructure the country’s safety net system.

Under the order, all cabinet departments have 90 days to develop plans to impose work requirements on able-bodied federal aid recipients and block ineligible immigrants from such aid. Departments must also provide a list of recommended regulatory and policy changes and other actions to compel certain federal aid recipients out of safety net programs and into employment.

The order has potential to significantly impact an expansive amount of assistance programs including Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Women, Infants, and Children (WIC), and low-income housing subsidies. According to reports, the Trump Administration intends to use the executive order to urge federal and state officials to take a more stringent approach to aid programs.

Recall earlier this year, the Department of Health and Human Services granted waivers to Arkansas, Indiana, and Kentucky to impose requirements on Medicaid beneficiaries for at least 80 hours of employment, job training, or job search activities each month to maintain benefit eligibility. The Department of Agriculture has also taken steps to pressure states to impose work requirements for SNAP, as well.

Congressional Republicans generally expressed support for the Trump executive order, highlighting the order’s alignment with the Republicans’ long-standing interest in a major overhaul of federal assistance programs. Congressional Democrats, on the other hand, indicated a strong opposition to the order, pointing to the large body of evidence showing that the majority of beneficiaries of federal assistance programs do not avoid work and often have significant barriers to working full time.

While President Trump has directed federal agencies to undertake actions related to federal aid assistance programs, the Administration will likely need legislation from Congress to enact the type of broad, comprehensive aid program reform in which it has expressed interest. The order certainly sets into action a series of administrative activities, and it remains to be seen how Congress might further the intent of the Trump Administration related to work requirements.

The full executive order Reducing Poverty in America by Promoting Opportunity and Economic Mobility is available here.