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OPINION

Even vets who need aid want to keep contributing

By KELSEY PHILIE | Special to Stars and Stripes | Published: May 10, 2019

When the men and women who serve our country leave the military, they’re told they have a nation full of people indebted to them. They’re told they will be helped when they need help, looked after for when times are tough. And time and time again, our government fails them.

It fails them by imposing government barriers to licensed jobs, making it difficult for military service to directly translate to the private sector. It fails them by using them as a political talking point during debates, rather than fully addressing the issues they face. And it fails them by suggesting they are not worthy of providing for themselves and for their families.

Each time an able-bodied veteran is enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, once known as food stamps) — with no requirement that he or she work while receiving benefits — that is what they are being told. But our veterans — like all Americans — deserve more than to be handed an Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) card and forgotten about.

Though federal law requires childless, able-bodied adults to work, train or volunteer part time in order to receive food stamps, states have exploited regulatory loopholes to trap as many people in dependency as possible. They’ve waived these requirements in areas with thriving economies and open jobs and have instead allowed millions to fall deeper into the welfare trap — in perpetuity.

Nearly 4.1 million childless, able-bodied adults are expected to enroll in the food stamp program in 2019 — more than four times as many as were enrolled between 2000 and 2008. The reality is, most of these adults aren’t working. And because of the loopholes that states have enacted, one-third of the U.S. population lives in an area where work requirements are waived.

Now, as the U.S. Department of Agriculture is considering a rule that would crack down on this waiver abuse, helping millions of able-bodied Americans lift themselves out of dependency with work, there are some who are once again resorting to using veterans as a political talking point to dissuade the Trump administration from moving forward. But work is good for everyone — veterans included. Anyone who thinks differently hasn’t paid attention to recent research — or hasn’t spent much time with veterans.

Work requirements only apply to able-bodied adults — those without mental or physical disabilities keeping them from work. They do not apply to individuals with children or dependents at home. And they include things beyond just work — enrollees are able to work, train or volunteer part time in order to fulfill the requirement. That includes job training, workforce development opportunities like résumé writing, and community volunteering opportunities.

And we’ve seen them transform lives time and time again. After Florida reinstated work requirements in 2016, enrollment of childless, able-bodied adults dropped by 94 percent, and those who went back to work found jobs in over 1,100 industries. After Arkansas implemented work requirements, those leaving welfare saw their incomes triple within two years.

Work requirements not only ensure that able-bodied adults are given a hand up out of dependency, they ensure that the program is reserved for those who truly need it — including disabled Americans.

For most members of the military, service doesn’t end when they take off their uniforms. It is something ingrained in them, which is why so many veterans and their families volunteer their time in communities across the country. There are many things to be learned from those who have served — work ethic among them. To say that veterans are not worthy of the opportunity to work is patronizing.

To be sure, most of our country’s leaders can — and should be — doing more for veterans and their families to help the often-rocky transition out of military service. But while they work to lessen barriers to licensed occupations and improve education opportunities, they should be empowering veterans — just like every other American — to experience an independent life through work, especially now, when employers across the country are desperate for workers. Eliminating waivers to work requirements would do just that.

Kelsey Philie is a military spouse and director of communications at the Foundation for Government Accountability.

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