Republicans roll back child labor protections while attempting to cut food benefits
Earlier this month, newly-elected Arkansas Governor Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) signed a bill into law that rolls back child labor protections across the state. H.B. 1410, the “Youth Hiring Act of 2023,” eliminates the requirement that children under 16 years of age obtain a work certificate from the state before starting a job.
“The Governor believes protecting kids is most important,” Sanders’ spokesperson Alexa Henning said in a statement, “but this permit was an arbitrary burden on parents to get permission from the government for their child to get a job.”
While proponents insist that the new law isn’t a threat to children’s safety and simply gives parents more power over their child’s upbringing, opponents warn that the legislation puts vulnerable children at risk of exploitation:
“When we think about kids working who are 14, we think about who this might protect, it’s not the 14-year-old who’s working at the ice cream parlor in your hometown, whose parents have given them permission to work. We’re worried about the children who are at risk of being exploited and who are being exploited today,” Laura Kellams, the northwest Arkansas director of the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, a group that advocates for children’s rights in the state, said earlier this month during a committee hearing on the bill.
The situation isn’t hypothetical—just last month Packers Sanitation Services Inc. was fined $1.5 million for employing 10 minors at meatpacking plants in Arkansas, as well as across nine other states. While the Department of Labor did not check their immigration status, all of the children spoke Spanish as their primary language.
The Labor Department said children, ranging from 13 to 17 years old, spent overnight shifts cleaning equipment such as head splitters, back saws and brisket saws, and were exposed to dangerous chemicals such as ammonia. The risks inside meatpacking plants also include diseases from exposure to feces and blood, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Iowa state Sen. Jason Schultz (R) introduced S.F. 167 in January to expand the occupations 14- and 15-year olds are allowed to work to include certain jobs in meatpacking plants. As OSHA outlines, work in meatpacking plants exposes individuals to hazardous chemicals and dangerous machinery.
S.F. 167 also extends the hours that minors can legally work and allows 16- and 17-year-olds to serve alcohol with the permission of a parent.
The Senate Committee considering the legislation has approved the bill and sent it to the full chamber for debate.
Missouri state Sen. Andrew Koenig (R) introduced S.B. 175 to remove the requirement that minors obtain a work permit in order to obtain a job. The Senate Education and Workforce Committee passed the bill in February and it now awaits the full chamber’s consideration.
Proponents of S.B. 175 argue that removing the work permit requirement furthers the goals of “limited government” and makes it easier for minors to obtain important life skills through employment.
Minnesota state Sen. Rich Draheim (R) introduced S.F. 375 to allow 16- and 17-year olds to work in the construction industry.
Construction workers suffer nearly twice as many fatalities per year than agriculture and forestry workers. Additionally, over 165,000 construction workers are injured on the job each year.
Cutting food benefits
As emergency food benefits introduced during the pandemic come to an end this month, cutting recipients’ Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funds by up to hundreds of dollars, federal Republican lawmakers are seeking to limit the program even more.
H.R. 1581, called the America Works Act, would end a waiver program that allows states to bypass work requirements to receive SNAP benefits. The bill would also expand the age range of those who are required to work in order to receive food assistance, raising the age from 49 to 65 years old, and imposes the work requirement on parents of children older than 7. Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-SD) sponsored the legislation along with 24 other Republicans.
I was that kid on food stamps—I know firsthand how government assistance can both help and hurt. Education, training, and work provide dignity and economic opportunity. Too many Americans are on the sidelines while we are facing a record labor shortage. We have the jobs, but we don’t have the people to fill them. There is no one-size-fits-all solution to this problem, but there are policy areas where government is hurting, rather than helping Americans re-enter the workforce…
The America Works Act also changes age eligibility for SNAP waivers. Currently, if you are over 49 years old, you can receive SNAP benefits with no need for a waiver. As I approach 49 years old, I know I still have decades left of work ahead of me. My bill changes the maximum age rate of an ABAWD to be 65 years old, consistent with retirement and Medicare age.
Finally, the America Works Act limits the provision that exempts ABAWDs from work requirements if they have any dependent children to if they have any dependent children under the age of seven years old. By seven years old a child is in school nearly 35 hours a week. If a child can go to school nearly full-time, a parent with no other children under the age of seven can work 20 hours per week.
Free school lunches
Minnesota Governor Tim Walsh (D) signed into law a bill last week to provide free breakfasts and lunches to students at schools in the state. The legislation, H.F. 5, was sponsored entirely by Democrats; only 2 of 56 Republicans in the state House voted in favor.
One of the Republicans who opposed the bill was state Sen. Steve Drazkowski, who went viral last week for saying that because he has “yet to meet a person in Minnesota that is hungry,” food insecurity must not exist. In fact, 1 in 6 children in Minnesota experience food insecurity and, under previous law, a quarter of them did not qualify for free or reduced cost meals at school.