POINT: Weakened programs threaten progress

Proposed cuts to anti-poverty programs would leave millions of Americans without vital health coverage, food assistance, a place to live, or some combination of the three, writes Sharon Parrott.

A new report from President Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers argues that U.S. anti-poverty programs have reduced poverty so dramatically that we should now take assistance like SNAP (previously food stamps), Medicaid, and rental assistance away from people who don’t work a certain number of hours each week.

Never mind that other proponents of cutting these programs used to advocate for cuts by arguing these programs had failed. Either way, weakening programs that have been central to our success in reducing poverty threatens to reverse our progress.

The Council of Economic Advisers is right that programs like Medicaid, SNAP, and rental assistance help tens of millions of low-income Americans make ends meet, though it significantly understates the number of individuals and families that still struggle to afford the basics. But, the proposals the council endorses would increase poverty and harm millions of vulnerable people, including children, low-wage workers, older people, and people with disabilities or serious health conditions.

Consider Medicaid. The administration has issued guidance that lets states, for the first time, require work or work-related activities as a condition of getting coverage. To date, the administration has approved such proposals in four states, although a federal court recently reversed the first approval, in Kentucky.

That’s partly because many people with Medicaid work, but have low-wage jobs with few benefits, unsteady hours and high turnover. A working mother without sick leave could lose her job if she gets sick and misses work — and then could lose Medicaid when she needs it most.

A similar proposal in SNAP would have similar effects.

Helping people who can work find decent-paying jobs is a worthy goal. But proposals that take away a person’s health coverage, food assistance or rental assistance won’t achieve it; in fact, lacking health coverage, enough food to eat, or a roof over one’s head could make it harder to work and succeed in today’s economy.

Moreover, these proposals shouldn’t be viewed in isolation — they are part of a larger effort to take help away from many who need it:

Many lawmakers have continued their efforts — backed by the administration — to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which would eliminate the ACA’s extension of Medicaid coverage to millions of low-income adults and its subsidies that help moderate-income consumers afford health coverage in the individual market — replacing both with an inadequate block grant to states. Millions of people would lose health coverage as a result.

The president also proposed to slash SNAP by nearly 30 percent by eliminating benefits for at least 4 million people; reducing benefits for many more, including some people with disabilities and elderly people; and expanding a rigid time limit of just three months of benefits out of every three years for many adults not raising minor children unless they work 20 hours every week.

The president also proposed to at least triple rents — or raise them by even more — for the lowest-income households that receive federal rental assistance. That would put low-income working families and others at risk of eviction and homelessness, including nearly 1 million children.

All told, these proposals would leave millions of Americans — including many struggling working families, children, people with disabilities and serious health conditions, and older people — without vital health coverage, food assistance, a place to live, or some combination of the three.

These proposals are harsh enough on their own. They come just months after the president and Congress enacted a tax bill that will lavish tax cuts on wealthy individuals and most profitable corporations and widen the nation’s economic divide, reflecting the seriously misguided priorities at play.

Sharon Parrott is senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan, non-profit research and policy institute in Washington. She wrote this for InsideSources.com.