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Sonny Perdue: The dignity of work and the American Dream

Sonny Perdue: The dignity of work and the American Dream

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The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer.

This week I saw firsthand the work your fellow Arizonans do to help those who have fallen on hard times. In Phoenix, I visited Erickson Framing at their facility where they are thinking creatively about how to reengage individuals who have dropped out of the workforce. I learned that through building homes, Erickson helps those who are down on their luck earn a wage and gain skills. The critical work being done there and at similar job training facilities helps those who may be viewed as unemployable turn their lives around, reenter the workforce and experience the American dream.

Throughout my travels across this great country, I’ve seen the values that truly unite us — values we’ve embodied in our USDA motto to “Do right and feed everyone.” With hard work and dedication, you can accomplish great things. That’s the American dream. And when times are tough, we pull together to solve problems, and we look out for each other, knowing that next time, we may be the one who needs a helping hand.

Our SNAP program should be structured to work with our changing economy, not be stuck in the past. This is why I made it a top priority to ensure people have the tools they need to move away from SNAP dependency and back toward self-sufficiency. At the USDA we are working to restore the original intent of SNAP — one that provides a safety net for those in need but encourages accountability and self-sufficiency.

SNAP provides essential benefits to ensure folks facing the loss of a job or other difficult circumstances can put food on the table. But just as important, it provides connections to employment and training in the clear expectation that folks will seek to move beyond those benefits to work and independence.

Americans are generous people who believe it is their responsibility to help their fellow citizens when they encounter a difficult stretch. That is the commitment behind SNAP. But like other federal welfare programs, it was never intended to be a way of life.

President Trump’s policies have unleashed a booming economy. He’s putting people back to work and increasing wages. Last month’s employment report — showing a national unemployment rate of 3.6 percent — near the lowest rate in 50 years — highlights the robust state of our economy. There are more job openings than there are people to fill those spots thanks to President Trump’s actions to cut taxes and remove strangling regulations.

The USDA’s actions to reform SNAP restore the dignity of work to a sizable segment of our population, while also respecting the taxpayers who fund the program. Our action to encourage work will help fill the critical need for more workers in our economy.

In 1996, Democrats and Republicans came together to reform our welfare programs to restore the system to what it was meant to be: “a second chance, not a way of life,” in the words of then-President Clinton. We are working to do the same thing.

Americans are an exceptional people. We are uniquely independent, but we are also a giving people, willing to help our neighbor in their times of need.

Any one of us can face tough times, and as a community we come together to help others. At the same time, we expect those we assist to in turn take responsibility for themselves. Government can be a powerful force for good, but government dependency has never been the American dream. We need to encourage people by giving them a helping hand but not allowing it to become an indefinitely giving hand.

George Ervin “Sonny” Perdue III is an American veterinarian, businessman and politician. He is currently serving as the 31st United States secretary of agriculture.

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