Cliffs and paternalism: Feedback on welfare

Photo Credit:  Satoru Nakata  via  Compfight   cc

Photo Credit: Satoru Nakata via Compfight cc

Our listeners are brilliant and we can no longer fit all the brilliance in our Friday episodes. So, we are going to start sharing it here on our blog. First up? Deborah on welfare.

After listening to the conversation last week on the soda tax and this week's conversation about welfare reform, I have many thoughts. 

My number one policy priority is poverty and I believe all domestic government policies and programs should be directed at a reduction in poverty.  As both of you stated, poverty cannot be solved through the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act (PRWOA).  I have spent my entire career working in mental health and I worked with individuals in very rural and very urban areas of the Midwest.  I have walked alongside these individuals as they "did agency time" and regularly felt helpless in a system full of hoops and walls.  People need a system that offers optimism, dignity, and respect.  The current safety net does not do this, and I disagree that a guaranteed basic income would do this.  If we truly want to fight poverty we need to step back and look at our approach to education, healthcare, tax law, and administrative regulations.    Most people are in poverty because of their disability (including behavioral health needs) or are stuck in a minimum wage job because the education system is broken. 

If I could solve anything within our current social policy system it would be "cliffs."  "Cliffs" exist in many of our policies such as cash assistance, Medicaid, and earned income tax credits.  If we truly want to encourage individuals to work, then we should allow individuals to work and slowly scale back cash assistance month to month based on their income.  The system should never be all or nothing. The same goes for Medicaid. A person should be allowed to buy into Medicaid or another state-sponsored system using a sliding fee schedule for their medication because it will help them to continue to participate in competitive work.  Insurance is cheaper than monthly disability payments and if the person does not have access to 3rd party insurance, they should not be kicked off of Medicaid the moment they return to work.  However, I believe co-pays are important.  I do not think anything should be a complete handout. People need to have a choice in the matter and by asking someone to pay something, even if it is $5, encourages ownership and empowers someone to have a say in the process.    

Paternalism is a big problem in both parties and every conversation about social policy from both sides drips with paternalism.   In most cases, I believe these paternalist conversations cause individuals to entirely miss the boat on the actual problem.  A perfect example of this was Sarah's comment on the soda tax.  Soda is an issue in the inner city, because healthy food access is scarce. We should be working to reduce barriers to businesses within the inner city, instead of taxing the few things individuals have access to.  In other words, by focusing on a soda tax to reduce use, the democratic party has missed the bus on actually helping those less fortunate.  Time after time, the democratic party tries to punish businesses and make them pay their fair share, but in turn, these policies just make it harder for small businesses to exists in the areas in which we need them the most.  I hate workfare and think the entire program should be dismantled, but I think the solution is a private/public partnership.  We should be leveraging relationships with local businesses to build a network of opportunities, instead of demonizing them. 

In the end, everyone agrees that poverty is an issue, but no one can agree on the solution. We need ideas from both sides, and we need innovative solutions. I am sick and tired of people just saying I hate "Obamacare," or we need more money for schools. That is not a solution.  Actually, come up with real ideas, and do not be afraid to borrow from the other side.  

- Deborah