The fastest-growing category of food stamp users under President Obama has been among able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs), according to Heritage Foundation senior research fellow Robert Rector.
“In 2008 there were about a million [ABAWDs] now they’re at about 4.7 million. This is the most rapid growing part of the caseload,” Rector said in an exclusive interview with Breitbart News Wednesday, previewing his upcoming report on food stamp use among ABAWDs.
“ABAWDs are largely young adults who don’t work or are working off the books and hiding that income. They get a maximum of about $200 a month from the food stamp program,” Rector said, adding that this group of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or food stamp users cost taxpayers up to $11 billion a year.
While many ABAWDs make money off-the-books in the “gray market,” Rector said, they are not necessarily spending it on food.
“What we found was 50 percent of the ABAWDs smoke cigarettes regularly and those who do smoke are spending about $111 per month on cigarettes. That’s about two-thirds of their Thrifty Food [Plan] allotment — what they are supposed to spend on food,” Rector said.
“What is clearly happening there is these individuals are electing to spend their own revenue on cigarettes and then requiring the taxpayer to pay for their food for them and that doesn’t make very much sense,” he continued.
Rector’s paper, which is due for release later this month, is slated to spotlight Maine’s recent success with getting ABAWDs off the SNAP rolls — presenting the state as a case study and model for improvements at the federal level.
There the state of Maine put restrictions in place, including instituting work requirements, mandating that ABAWDs work, do community service, or take part in a job-training program in order to receive food stamps for more than three months.
The number of ABAWDs on SNAP in Maine plunged.
“The Left likes to say that these policies are just kicking people off the rolls,” Rector said. “But they very explicitly did not do this in Maine. Every single one of these recipients was given the opportunity to come in and do community service work or do training or anything like that and the bulk of them simply never responded at all, even though there were aggressive outreach activities for them.”
According to the poverty expert, the federal government should look at Maine’s success and incorporate those reforms to the program on a national level.
“What I recommend is that the federal government do this exact same thing nationwide on all the ABAWDs and that would save the taxpayer — if you have the same results that you had in Maine — and adding a few other reforms,” he said, “You end up with $7.9 billion a year in savings from this requirement alone.”
One of the effects of a work requirement, Rector explained, is to prevent double-dipping welfare fraud brought about by unreported income.
“What happens when you impose a work requirement like Maine did — people can’t be in two places at once,” Rector said. “So if they have an off-the-books job and you’re requiring them to come down to the welfare office at arbitrary times several days a week, they can’t do both things. And what happens is people who have off-the-books employment tend not to come down to the welfare office at all and fall off the rolls.”
Rector argues that any governor could apply the same reforms Maine Gov. Paul LePage did, however given most SNAP funding comes from the federal government, there is less of an incentive to reduce the rolls.
“For the most part they have no interest in this because it is federal money,” he said, adding that it is an “illusion” to believe that state governments are systems for conservative reform.
Rector’s report, he said, will also show the popularity of work requirements for ABAWDs.
“About 90 percent of the population believes that able-bodies adults who get cash, food housing or medical care from the government should be required for work or prepare for work as a condition of getting that aid. This is a very popular position,” he said, adding that Republicans are not the only group that approve but Democrats too by high margins favor work requirements.
“So the only people that disagree with that are Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, and President Obama,” he said.
Rector further lamented that since the 1996 welfare reform, which mandated work requirements, Republicans failed to capitalize on it as a positive solution for other assistance programs.
“Instead the Republican Party has sort of turned away from that and ignored the issue almost totally. And that’s a repudiation of basic conservative ideas,” Rector said.