New Orleans One of the least surprising, but most depressing, reports on the early days of the enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act in recent weeks has not been the online application snafus but has been the number of families that have come walking into our offices throughout Texas and Louisiana hoping to find that they can finally get health care and discovering that they still don’t qualify because their governors for unfathomable rationales of almost purely punitive politics refused to extend Medicaid eligibility. Sure, they can try to apply through the marketplace exchanges, but without two cents to rub together, it seems a bit like going through the motions.
Dr. George Wiley, the late founder and executive director of the National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO), used to joke a million years ago about his only organizing ability was to put together a loose collection of unemployed men on 14th Street in DC where the office was at the time. Seen in the vernacular of the time as bums in an area of what was once something of a skid row more than 45 years ago in the District, George may have been ahead of his time in recognizing how some of the poor were expendable in the gaps of the public’s limited policy conscience.
The Times quoted the Kaiser Family Foundation report that in states like Arkansas and Texas and the other holdouts, 4 million childless adults will be denied coverage, 60% of whom will be men. Of 26 million impoverished adults, 16 million are childless. Worse of the few anti-poverty programs we have left, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) and food stamps are little help here because of a national culture of shaming adults unable or unlucky to find work.
The EITC makes workers under 25 ineligible and without children, workers over 25 get meager benefits if they get them at all, yet politicians wonder why the informal economy and limited alternatives like drug dealing have appeal?
Food stamp regulations are similarly draconian. An unemployed childless adult can only qualify for benefits 3 months out of every 3 years, unless they win something like the lucky lottery and can find a slot in the scarce job training programs given limited funding for such programs. You have to wonder what they think people are supposed to do to survive the other 33 months out of those 36 months. Unless the poor learn some adaptation routine that involves hibernation, it sure sounds rough to make it to me. Some states apply for a waiver of this Dickensian poor house restriction, but meanwhile, the Republicans are trying to eliminate this wavier provision in their callous attempt to cut billions of dollars off the food stamp benefits.
All around the world over recent weeks we were chided about the government shutdowns with poor jokes, like “we don’t have a very good government, but at least we have a government.” Returning home, all of the news is somehow about the fact that the President and the Senate should “negotiate with themselves” to help the Republicans out of the mess of their making. The already punished poor should not be among the pawns in this pitiful procedure.