The fight over tax reform in Kansas has made headlines across the nation, and it hasn't all been good press. But Kansas' messy tax reform isn't the only big news coming out of the Sunflower State.
Kansas has recently enacted successful welfare reforms that are a model for nationwide success. Kansas governor Sam Brownback's policies on Medicaid expansion and food stamp reform have helped thousands of Kansans climb out of dependency while preserving taxpayer dollars for the truly needy and for other key investments in education and infrastructure.
And Brownback's veto of Obamacare's Medicaid expansion earlier this year signaled that he remains committed to preserving welfare for the truly needy while expanding job creation throughout the state.
Medicaid was designed for the needy, including seniors and individuals with disabilities. But the ACA's expansion of Medicaid eligibility to able-bodied, mostly childless adults puts the vulnerable at risk of not receiving the aid that they truly need.
Nationwide, roughly 640,000 people with disabilities are currently on Medicaid waiting lists. Expansion makes it more difficult for these patients to get the care that they desperately need. Brownback's decision to renounce expansion is a beacon of hope for truly needy and disabled individuals in Kansas, and the federal government would be wise to take notice.
And the governor's policies are doing more than offering hope. They're helping to boost employment. In states that have not expanded Medicaid, employment growth accelerated after 2011, while it slowed during the same time frame in states that chose to expand eligibility. Employment at Kansas hospitals has increased by over 4,000 since Brownback took office. That's a hint that hospitals are not suffering because of this decision.
It is unsurprising that welfare expansion has failed to create jobs, yet so many states and leaders still cling to the belief that expanding the welfare state is the best way to promote prosperity among citizens. Instead, more leaders should look towards solutions that promote work as the best and fastest way to break the cycle of poverty. Work, not welfare, is the way out of poverty.
And Brownback is doing just that, reducing welfare and increasing work. His commitment to empowering able-bodied adults by promoting work instead of welfare extends beyond his stance on Medicaid expansion; he is also a pioneer on food stamp reform.
The 1996 bipartisan welfare reform required able-bodied adults without children to work or participate in employment training for at least 20 hours per week to receive food stamps.
In the aftermath of the Great Recession, states waived SNAP work requirements. But in 2013, once the economy had recovered, Brownback restored Kansas' work requirements and established a tracking system to monitor the success of individuals as they transitioned off welfare.
The results speak for themselves: the data show that 75 percent of the SNAP participants, or 20,000 able-bodied individuals, were no longer dependent on food stamps. And those who have since left food stamps have seen their incomes rise by an average of 127 percent.
These individuals were able to entirely offset their loss of government benefits, helping to break the cycle of dependency. This is cause for celebration. And as an added benefit to reinstating work requirements, Kansas taxpayers have saved nearly $50 million per year.
Kansas' reforms are working and inspiring other reforms around the nation.
As recently as two years ago, 42 states had a policy of partially or fully waiving work requirements for food stamps. Today, just seven states waive these work requirements entirely, and many states with partial waivers are moving to eliminate them.
Governor Brownback's experience in Kansas shows that getting people to work, not expanding welfare, is the way to create jobs and increase incomes. Beyond the Sunflower State, Kansas's welfare and healthcare policies show that states have innovative ideas about how to promote self-sufficiency and prosperity – and that leaders like Sam Brownback should be empowered to keep innovating, whether at the state or federal level.
Tarren Bragdon is president and chief executive officer of the Foundation for Government Accountability.
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