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The Debt Ceiling Deals Increases Means Testing, Which Wastes Money and Hurts Poor Americans.
Poor people don't need "incentives" to work. They need food.
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Now that the dust has settled on the debt ceiling negotiations, we can evaluate what was passed without getting caught up in the pointless squabble of who “won” the negotiations. Unfortunately, the deal placed increased levels of means testing and work requirements onto America’s already-weak social safety net. Often cited as a way of ensuring “moochers” aren’t living off the government dole, means testing seems to be the only form of government agency both parties are fond of.
But, as the cost of testing applicants requires a large bureaucracy with staff, resources, and a workplace, the juice is often not worth the squeeze. Despite what our Capitalist-backed politicians believe, means testing, which is the process of forcing applicants to meet certain stipulations in order to receive welfare, doesn’t save money or incentivize the poor to “get back to work.” Instead, it simply further immiserates the poor and meek.
SNAP & TANF Changes
The debt ceiling deal placed new requirements on two programs: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly called “food stamps,” and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), a.k.a. “welfare.” Both programs already had work and income hoops for would be-recipients to jump through, which the deal tightened.
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The upper age of SNAP work requirements has been raised from 49 to 54, which places approximately 750,000 Americans at risk of losing their assistance. Previously, adults aged 18 to 49 without dependents were only able to receive food stamps three months of every year, unless they work at least 20 hours a week. With the upper age limit raised by five years, The Congressional Budget Office estimates about 250,000 Americans will lose benefits, either because they cannot satisfy the work requirements or because they’ll be lost in the red tape of government bureaucracy. Veterans and the homeless are exempt from these work requirements, though again, this requires even more expensive and convoluted bureaucracy, as homeless Americans don’t have a mailing address to receive correspondence and many fluctuate in and out of homelessness.
The changes to TANF are convoluted, complex, and as foolish as they are wasteful. States (and therefore Americans) receive TANF funding based on the percentage of recipients involved in work-search activities. That percentage is lowered if a state reduces the number of TANF recipients. The new legislation changes the formula used to calculate these exemptions by using 2015, which has a much lower case count than the previously-used 2005 levels, as the denominator. There’s no quantifiable answer to how this will impact needy Americans, as TANF payments depend on what state they reside in, as each chooses to spend the money differently. But as Congress chose a year with lower TANF participation to dictate the formula, the result is sure to be even more American families driven to hunger.
If this sounds confusing, that’s because it is. Instead of simply giving money to families that need it — which would be simple, as the IRS knows how much money every family makes — the government has decided to make Americans who need support navigate a tangled network of auditors, agencies, and shifting formulas, all of which vary upon which state they live in.
Not only does each additional layer of means testing raise a barrier between aid and those who desperately need it, but each comes with an added cost. When the Center for Economic and Policy Research studied the potential effect of means testing Social Security, they found it would cost the program more than it would save.
The cost of administering a means test would add substantially to the operating cost of the program. If the means test raised the expense ratio for the retirement program to the same level as the disability program it would increase expenses by an amount equal to 1.70 percent of the program’s cost. This would eliminate most, if not all, of the savings from a plausible means test on affluent beneficiaries.”
According to a new white paper for the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, work requirements, like the ones Congress just increased, have a similar effect on programs like TANF and SNAP.
“Decades of research show that [work requirements] do not move people off assistance and into self-sufficiency. Instead, work requirements harm health, keep eligible people from obtaining needed assistance, and drive people and families already struggling to make ends meet deeper into poverty.”
Not only are means testing and work requirements counterintuitive, but they are the result of an ideology that is as cruel as it is disproven. According to the politicians that pushed these requirements, poor Americans are lazy, slothful creatures no more capable of self-betterment than the neighborhood strays. Work requirements are based on the idea that needy Americans must be “driven” to work, as they themselves cannot recognize how it will better their existence. This is a fantasy, one that exists only in the halls of Congress and the motivations of The Heritage Foundation.
The current unemployment rate is at a record-low 3.7%. Tightening work requirements won’t get this 3.7% “off the couch.” It will only increase the cost of these programs and prevent them from being accessed by those who need them most.
Instead of recognizing the true nature of poverty — that it is the inevitable result of a Capitalist system that has no use for the sick, elderly, and unlucky — American politicians continue to immiserate those who are unable to be used for the production profit. A much better system would be to eliminate means tests and work requirements entirely, making food and financial aid widely available for those who need it.
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What do you think about the common use of means testing for American welfare programs? Share your thoughts in the comments.