What happens when only the 'deserving' poor get help? Reading for Arkansas. | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, May 25, 2017

What happens when only the 'deserving' poor get help? Reading for Arkansas.

Posted By on Thu, May 25, 2017 at 12:03 PM

FROM THE ATLANTIC: An article with a particular connection to coming welfare program changes in Arkansas.
  • FROM THE ATLANTIC: An article with a particular connection to coming welfare program changes in Arkansas.

The Atlantic reports
on what happened in Maine when that state attached work requirements and time limits ( much as Arkansas is preparing to do) on social safety net, or welfare, programs.

Arkansas's proposals should win favor with the Trump administration. Welfare should be workfare, some of them say. Some of them see spending on the poor as "theft." Ben Carson says poverty is just "a state of mind." Writes The Atlantic:

Where the federal government is now going, Maine has led the way. The state’s experience shows that policies that ask for more in exchange for aid—work requirements, time limits, asset tests, and so on—do slash social spending, and encourage some low-income adults to find a job or find a job more quickly. But they also leave many individuals and families in extreme poverty, without anywhere to turn.
Maine never took the Medicaid expansion program as Arkansas did. But its measures have still managed to knock 70,000 off Medcaid, including 10,000 children, and to cut food stamps by 20 percent, including an 80 percent cut in assistance to able-bodied adults.

Maine declares the steps a success. It has undoubtedly cut government spending. But there's disagreement on what this produced in increased work.
There were other consequences, and they fell hardest on those least able to deal with them. Many individuals unable or unwilling to work due to addiction issues, homelessness, health problems, domestic violence, or the simple trauma of living in extreme poverty, along with their children, ended up with no safety net at all. “Welfare reform got a group of more-able people into the labor market, but left behind families with more significant barriers,” Pavetti said.

But a strong economy and rising wages seem to have been the big factors in nudging people into the workforce, rather than the absence of benefits. Between the beginning of 1996 and the end of 1999, the national unemployment rate dropped from 5.6 to 4 percent, with wages and earnings growing across the income spectrum. In that climate, it became easier—and more attractive—to find work. It is true that the work requirements did encourage some people to get a job or get one faster, LaDonna Pavetti of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities told me. But they did not increase the overall level of employment in the medium or long term, spurring few individuals to get a job they were not already likely to get in time.
The end of the recession brought work that would have happened anyway, some say. And many who lost benefits did not go to work. What's more:

... the changes do seem to have intensified poverty in the state. As Maine’s unemployment rate has dropped, its poverty rate has barely dropped. The share of Mainers experiencing food insecurity has remained elevated. The proportion of children living in deep poverty in the state has increased at eight times the national average—faster than in any other state—between 2011 and 2015.
Before long, Arkansas will have some experience to add to the statistics. Lots of good information in the article worth considering, including this relevant quote:

“There’s this fallacy that these people are just lazy, or they don’t care, and that by taking help away, they will be empowered to move off of welfare into employment,” said Robyn Merrill, the executive director of Maine Equal Justice Partners, a nonprofit legal-aid provider. “But there are barriers. There are things that stand in the way, whether it’s affordable child care or transportation or needing more education or training. We aren’t doing anything about those things.”
Yes, because "those things" cost money, too.

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