Mr. Cantrell, 50, is not surprised that Mr. Trump is trying to make a hard process even harder. “The bigwigs are going to do what they want anyway,” Mr. Cantrell said. “I just live day to day on what God gives me. But it’s hard to do sometimes.”
To Mr. Mulvaney, the president’s proposal is the essence of compassion, a policy shift from Washington to move the poor from dependence to work — and on to true economic success. The population on food stamps has swollen drastically since the Great Recession of 2008, to a peak of almost 48 million in 2013, up from 28 million five years before.
With the economy improved and employment nearing capacity, the number of people receiving food stamps remains stubbornly high; 44 million people received the benefit in 2016. Social Security Disability Insurance rolls have also been sticky. About 11 million people, including workers, spouses and children, were on disability in 2016, up from nine million in 2008 and six million in 1996.
Such numbers have convinced supporters of work requirements that far too many people are taking advantage of the system. The federal government already requires some adults without dependents to work for benefits like food stamps and cash assistance. Now, more Americans — including possibly those with children and those who are older than 49 — could be required to work as well.
“You need to make sure people on the programs taking in these benefits are actually eligible,” said John Nothdurft, director of government relations at the Heartland Institute, a conservative research group in Illinois. “So the more we can get rid of waste, fraud and abuse, the better we can help the people who…