May 18, 2023 - Politics & Policy

Axios-Ipsos poll: Americans back work requirements for federal aid

Share who say they support requiring Medicaid or SNAP benefit recipients to show proof of work to receive benefits
Data: Axios-Ipsos poll; Chart: Jared Whalen/Axios

Nearly two-thirds of Americans — including half of Democrats — back work requirements for Medicaid and Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program benefits, as House Republicans want in a debt limit deal, according to the latest Axios-Ipsos American Health Index.

Why it matters: Work requirements are a major sticking point in debt ceiling talks.

  • President Biden on Wednesday reiterated his opposition to imposing them for health care. But the new findings show how popular the idea is with Republicans and independents, at least on the surface — and how it divides Democrats.
  • Progressives have warned that Biden risks major backlash for ceding ground, but the Axios-Ipsos poll showed the public is receptive to new conditions on federal aid programs.
  • Overall, 63% strongly or somewhat support requiring Medicaid or SNAP recipients to show proof of work to receive benefits.
  • 66% of independents and 49% of Democrats back the policy change, along with 80% of Republicans.

Yes, but: Sentiment is much stronger against cutting entitlement programs as part of a spending deal, with just 22% favoring cutting Medicare or Social Security to reduce the deficit.

What they're saying: "Americans have a long-standing belief in the value of work. Consequently, when presented with work requirements for government aid, particularly aid most people don't personally access, we see majorities supporting the policy change," said Cliff Young, president of Ipsos U.S. Public Affairs.

  • Biden sent a strong signal Wednesday that he'd oppose work requirements for Medicaid: "I'm not going to accept any work requirements that's going to impact on medical health needs of people."
  • But he hedged on changes to other programs: "It's possible there could be a few others, but not anything of any consequence."

Between the lines: Biden in recent days has noted his own past support for work requirements as part of welfare reform in the 1990s when he was a senator.

Catch up quick: Red states began imposing Medicaid work requirements during the Trump years, but many of the rules were struck down by courts and the Biden administration has firmly opposed them.

  • Republicans argue they encourage people to get jobs to lift themselves out of poverty.
  • But a KFF analysis found that under the House Republicans' debt bill, 1.7 million enrollees would not meet the criteria and fall off the safety net program's rolls next year.
  • The majority of people on Medicaid who weren't eligible because of a disability were already working before the pandemic, per KFF.

The Axios-Ipsos survey also found Americans are more eager than ever to put the pandemic behind them.

  • 62% agree with the statement the pandemic is over — up from 47% in our last poll in February.
  • 60% said they agree that America has spent enough fighting COVID and it's time to move on — up from 50% in February.
  • Less than a quarter said contracting the virus is a large or moderate health risk, down from 33% in February.
  • Most Americans (62%) know the public health emergency ended this month — but only 41% know how the end of the emergency will change who'll pay for tests and treatments.
  • 23% said they wear a face mask in public settings at all times or sometimes, down from 30% in February.

Methodology: This Axios/Ipsos Poll was conducted May 12-15 by Ipsos' KnowledgePanel®. This poll is based on a nationally representative probability sample of 1,095 general population adults age 18 or older.

  • The margin of sampling error is ±3.1 percentage points at the 95% confidence level, for results based on the entire sample of adults.

Margaret Talev contributed to this report.

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