The 'meanness threshold': Ernest Dumas on politics of punishing the poor | Arkansas Blog

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

The 'meanness threshold': Ernest Dumas on politics of punishing the poor

Posted By on Tue, Mar 6, 2018 at 9:30 AM

There's an argument that the Arkansas legislature should defeat Gov. Asa Hutchinson's Human Services Medicaid budget: It's too mean. But the debate will be about whether it is mean enough.

If you read nothing else in the Arkansas Times this week, read Ernest Dumas' account of the new punitive and inefficient "work rule" for Medicaid and the even more punishing cut that, as yet, the Trump administration has not approved. Excerpt:

There is no evidence that the carrot and stick will work. The world has centuries of failing experience with forcing “able-bodied” but reputedly lazy people to find and hold regular jobs. England’s poor law, enacted in 1601, required communities to collect taxes and distribute aid to the poor but only to those who were totally impotent to support themselves. The “able bodied” got no help. Deciding who was not able bodied proved hard—those disabled only by severe physical problems or those with mental incapacities or illnesses? And what if there were no jobs to be had that they could do?

Two centuries later, the Brits tried other rules, like “nobody who tipples in the alehouse will get poor relief.”

We have sharper bureaucrats now. The Department of Human Services has come up with a raft of rules defining who is worthy of the state’s humanity. To keep insurance, a poor woman must get on her computer and make a detailed electronic report to DHS every two months, including proof of 80 hours of “work activity” every month or that she has other conditions that would exempt her, like pregnancy or disabilities that make it impossible to work. No jobs you can do is not an excuse. If you miss the threshold a couple of months, your coverage is canceled and you can’t get it again until the next year, even if you land a good job.

Bureaucratic hurdles, a hassle for the most industrious people, will be enormous. They have driven tens of thousands off the rolls the past two years. You have not encountered a bureaucracy until you deal with the Department of Human Services.

But Governor Hutchinson says not to worry. The worthy will get jobs this time, keep their health care and hold their heads higher. 

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