Pearl River Another administration, this time under President Joe Biden, is talking about chopping down part of the forest of paperwork to access governmental programs, benefits, and services. Commentators note how hard this has been to get done. According to the White House, they have “identified nearly 100 measures it has taken to reduce paperwork and other administrative burdens at 20 federal agencies.” Unfortunately, it still a matter of “if there’s a will, there’s a way,” so it’s fair to wonder whether a big part of the problem is that some of the politicians and a bunch of their bureaucratic underlings may just not want to make it easier to apply and access.
For example, it’s not easy to file your taxes for lots of people, even when they have little income. Biden’s people have talked about letting people file online in these cases and get it done. There’s opposition on this score from H&R Block and some of the online services because they would rather make money offering this service rather than having the government provide it for free. This will be an interesting test of will, because there are absolutely plenty of ways to do this, as TurboTax, Block and the rest have demonstrated – with the help of the IRS – for years. We can’t blame the IRS for all of this, because the Republican controlled houses of Congress have tried to starve them out for years. I know this well. We’ve been unable to find the tax exemption letter for the Affiliated Media Foundation Movement, originally issued in the late 1970s. A bookkeeper passed away, and it was stuck on her computer and inaccessible. There’s an IRS form for this. I filed a year ago to get a replacement copy. Nothing yet. In fact, when I filed, the IRS warned it might take a year or more to receive the new copy. Will I ever get it? Who knows?
In a story about governmental paperwork problems, the reporter noted that “At least $142 billion in potential aid goes unclaimed every year across food stamps, welfare and other programs, in part because of the burdens associated with applying.…” The story implies that this might be fixed in this attempt to streamline federal bureaucratic hurdles, but the truth, as most know, is uglier. This may be federal money, but states mess with the eligibility standards and the tests for applying on many benefit programs. It has gotten so difficult to apply for welfare benefits for mothers with children, that many have simply given up and the rolls in red, anti-welfare states have plummeted. If you understand that voter suppression is a real thing, you wouldn’t be able to imagine what states are getting away with in suppressing welfare and disability payments, even when they only contribute a miserly amount. The same thing is now happening as many states try to make access to health care almost impossible or figure out ways to “gotcha,” like forcing people online or kicking people off for trivial reasons like not replying to mail notices. Whoops, that does sound like voter purges, doesn’t it?
In Citizen Wealth, I made the case that we could significantly impact family income not just by legislating new programs, as difficult as that is, but by assuring maximum feasible access. The children’s game of rock, paper, scissors is worth remembering here, because in too many cases when it comes to benefits for lower income and differently able families, it’s not the paper, it’s the fact that rocks have been put in the way to keep scissors from being able to cut through to let people enjoy the rights to assistance that should be freely given. We need more than an executive order and initiative to fix that level of plain meanness.