Work Relief

Ideas and Issues
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February 13, 2021

Pearl River       Back when welfare was “as we know it,” we organized to oppose “workfare,” the requirement that poverty alone did not qualify someone for benefits to survive, but they also had to prove they had made efforts to seek employment or had successfully gotten some menial job. Sometimes these requirements were waived, if a woman had children under three years old, but that was about it. High unemployment, lack of marketable job or skills training, and nonexistent day care for children were all ignored as the government and business, gang pressed by ideological politicians, sought to create a dependent, low-wage labor force for their own self-interests, but defying social and economic values.

Over recent decades, it is clear that we largely loss this fight, and did so badly. As the rules have become more oppressive and obscure and the state and federal bureaucracies more rigid, welfare enrollment has plunged everywhere. Work requirements and the myth of the so-called “able-bodied” worker, somehow avoiding work to cash in on a couple of hundred dollars a month in benefits, in most states has continued to dominate.

Medicaid, the federal health program for lower income families, was able to avoid work requirements for sixty years, since the inception of the program, that is until the Trump administration and the anti-poor director of the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services created exemptions for states that wanted to restrict healthcare to the poor, at least those without children or any certifiable disability, unless they proved they were trying to get a job. CMS advertised these work waivers like it was a blue light special for the states in order to save a couple of bucks and slam some poor families around. Some states applied but the courts halted most of them or these cases are in limbo to see what shook out in Arkansas, the only state that actually got the waiver and started the program in a scandalous manner, requiring computer access, questionable outreach, and timelines that forced 18,000 people off of Medicaid until courts stopped the program.

Good news, there’s work relief now. The Biden administration has given states a 30-day notice that they are rescinding this outrage and are not of a mind to approve any waivers for work-tested access to Medicaid in the future, especially given the pandemic, but also just because it’s wrong. Unbelievably, Seema Verma, the Trump hatchet woman for this policy, tried to pull some last-minute dirty tricks to delay reversal of this outrage and give her buddies in the war against the poor some agreements on such waivers, so this may end up in court. Nonetheless, work requirements are dead for the future, even if the last gasps of this horrendous policy linger on life support a little longer.

Not that the ideologues care, but this is a Biden administration action that will save lives, thank goodness!