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Promoting Economic Mobility Requires a Carrot, Not a Stick

On April 10, President Trump signed an Executive Order titled "Reducing Poverty in America by Promoting Opportunity and Economic Mobility," ordering several federal agencies, including HUD, to review their public assistance programs and propose new policies and regulations to enhance self-sufficiency and economic mobility. The Executive Order calls on agencies to strengthen work requirements, streamline federal programs, and give states more flexibility in administering welfare programs.

The Executive Order will require HUD Secretary Carson to propose regulatory and policy changes that adhere to nine "Principles of Economic Mobility," which include improving employment outcomes and economic independence, as well as “promoting strong social networks as a way of sustainably escaping poverty, including through work and marriage,” and “reserving benefits for those truly in need.”

Reducing poverty and helping low-income Americans become economically mobile are goals that the National Housing Trust strongly supports. NHT is concerned, however, that the Executive Order encourages HUD and other federal agencies to impose arbitrary and ill-advised work requirements upon individuals trying to make ends meet, which may have unintended consequences.  Research has demonstrated that for most families, work requirements do not lead to stable employment or a path out of poverty.

Rental assistance helps low-income households attain economic security, hold down jobs, obtain an education, and meet their fundamental needs for healthy food and medical care.  Many poor families without housing aid struggle to afford decent housing, which places them at greater risk of eviction and homelessness, circumstances that make it incredibly difficult to maintain a job.

Arbitrary work requirements and time limits may not reflect the current reality of low wage jobs.  Many Americans struggle to retain service industry jobs that do not provide benefits, leave time, or any flexibility for workers.  If an employee misses a shift because s/he has to care for a child or sick family member, s/he may be fired summarily.  Under these circumstances, work requirements and time limits may inadvertently cut people off from the housing benefits that actually enable them to find and keep jobs.  This is especially true in high cost and rural areas, where rents are often well above what a low-income worker can afford and where there is a widespread severe shortage of affordable homes.

Helping disadvantaged Americans become economically mobile means assisting them in accessing education and skills training, so they can attain well-paying jobs. HUD’s Family Self-Sufficiency (FSS) program provides employment and financial literacy coaching to residents in public and assisted housing and those with vouchers, while allowing them to build savings in escrow accounts. FSS has proven that an investment in supportive services and education helps low-income residents become economically mobile. NHT urges Congress and the Administration to expand this program and provide the support and resources necessary to reduce poverty, not to just impose arbitrary work requirements upon needy families.

 

For more information on federal policy, please contact NHT Federal Policy Director Ellen Lurie Hoffman.

4.18.2018