Work requirements: Republicans are using the debt ceiling bill to keep millions on Medicaid and food stamps

(CNN) House Republicans use Debt ceiling position To advocate for one of their long-standing goals — requiring low-income Americans to work to receive government benefits, particularly food stamps and Medicaid.

They see job requirements as a twofer, allowing government spending to be cut while improving the nation’s labor force at a time when many businesses are out. There is still difficulty in raising staff.

Still, the controversial policy, included Collection by Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy Raising the debt ceiling is causing some confusion within the Republican convention, with tough-seekers looking to add even tougher requirements and facing pushback on the issue in swing districts associated with moderate members.

If The House passes legislation this week, As McCarthy believes, White House and Senate Democrats strongly oppose job requirements and will not move forward with other elements of the bill. But it serves as a starting point for negotiations with the Biden administration on addressing the debt ceiling.

House GOP lawmakers argue that work requirements would lift people out of poverty and end their reliance on government, including some who grew up in families relying on public assistance.

However, critics see it as an attempt to shrink critical safety net programs without regard for the millions of people struggling to put food on the table and address their health care needs.

What’s in the plan?

Under the package, childless adults ages 18 to 55 can receive food stamps for only three months every three years if they work at least 20 hours a week or meet other criteria. Currently, the order applies to people aged 18 to 49, although it has been suspended during the Covid-19 public health emergency. Expires next month.

Estimates of how many people it affects vary. In an analysis released Monday, the Congressional Budget Office said an average of 275,000 people could lose benefits each month because they failed to meet the requirements and were not exempt. Another 19,000 will receive smaller benefits because of the new income they earn.

Others expect a potentially larger impact. The provision would cause about 900,000 people between the ages of 50 and 55 to lose their food assistance if they work enough hours, register that employment with their state agencies, are exempt or do not live in a waiver area. to the Left Center on Budget and Policy Priorities.

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The debt ceiling package won’t go as far as some Republicans would like. South Dakota Rep. Dusty Johnson introduced a bill earlier this year that would require recipients under 65 to work with children ages 7 and older. The center found that the law would have jeopardized food stamp benefits for more than 10 million people, including millions of children.

The loan ceiling package requires certain adult Medicaid recipients to work at least 80 hours per month, perform community service or participate in an employment program, or earn a certain minimum monthly income. It applies to people between the ages of 19 and 55, but does not apply to those who are pregnant, parents of dependent children, physically or mentally unfit for work, or enrolled in education or substance abuse programs.

It is mostly aimed at low-income adults who qualify under the Medicaid expansion, a provision of the Affordable Care Act.

Medicaid has never had a work requirement, but the Trump administration exempted several states from imposing such a mandate on certain enrollees. Prosecutions were halted or states cooled implementation of the initiativeAnd then the Biden administration Permissions revoked — though a federal district court judge allowed the effort to proceed in Georgia.

The arrangement would cause about 1.5 million adults, on average, to lose federal funding for their Medicaid, according to the CBO. But states will pick up the full tab for about 900,000 of them, leaving about 600,000 uninsured.

In addition, the debt ceiling bill would make changes to the work requirement provisions of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, which were created from the 1996 welfare reform package.

Fierce debate

The provision, included in the debt ceiling bill, has reignited the debate over whether work requirements actually help improve the lives of low-income Americans.

Both advocates who see public assistance as a way to support jobs and opponents who see it as incentives each cite data to support their views.

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“Incentives are important. And today the incentives are gone,” McCarthy said A speech on the New York Stock Exchange last week. “It’s time to put Americans back to work.”

Aid programs are meant to be temporary, he continued, arguing that the GOP plan would not hurt the nation’s social safety net for those who need it during difficult times in their lives.

There are nearly 10 million open jobs across the U.S., and wages for many entry-level jobs have risen in recent years, said Tarren Bragdon, CEO of the Foundation for Government Accountability, a conservative think tank that advocates for job requirements. So this is a good time to implement job requirements. States can request waivers to temporarily suspend mandates during economic downturns.

“Work requirements provide the deadlines and incentives we all need,” Bragton said. “The alternative is for people to be stuck in poverty for a long time.”

He pointed to Florida, which in 2016 reinstated a work requirement for certain adults in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, as food stamps are formally known. Enrollment in this population dropped by 94% two years later. The foundation’s analysis of state data showed residents found jobs in more than 1,000 occupations, but did not say what share of laid-off registrants found work or how long it took them to find work.

There are different statistics on how many food stamp participants are employed depending on the data source and the time period studied.

A baseline analysis of U.S. Department of Agriculture data from before the pandemic found that 75% of childless, nonelderly, disabled adults who received food stamps were not working.

But over the long term, the same percentage of adults who are subject to the term limit worked before or after the month they received food stamps, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. Most people are likely to participate in the scheme during periods of unemployment.

Ed Polan, director of the Center for SNAP State Strategies, said several studies have found that food stamps’ current work requirements do not help recipients find employment or increase their incomes.

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“At SNAP we know it’s cutting people off and putting people out of work,” he said.

Expanding the work requirement of food stamps might induce some recipients to work a little more, but it would have little impact on average incomes, the CBO analysis found, because the loss in benefits would be equal to or greater than the additional earnings.

For non-disabled working-age Medicaid beneficiaries, about 61% are working in 2021, according to KFF, formerly known as the Kaiser Family Foundation. But many hold low-wage jobs so they still qualify for the program in states that have expanded Medicaid, where the income limit is $20,100 a year for an individual and $34,300 for a family of three.

Brief experience with Medicaid requirements during the Trump administration shows that the mandate has not resulted in employment for recipients. only Arkansas The arrangement was in place long enough for residents to suffer before it was stopped by the courts.

During those seven months, more than 18,000 low-income Arkansans lost coverage — or nearly a quarter of those covered by the mandate. Some of the dropouts work, but are either unaware of the need or unable to report their hours to the state agency.

The House GOP package would affect health care for about 21 million people, according to an analysis released Tuesday by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Although the majority of working-age Medicaid recipients work or qualify for the waiver, many may be left behind because of the new reporting and administrative requirements.

Instituting a work requirement would lead to a “very small increase” in employment, but it would also increase recipients’ Medicare costs, the CBO said. However, it would reduce federal spending on the $135 billion safety net program over 10 years.

“These requirements fundamentally reduce medical spending,” said Laura Harker, senior policy analyst for the center’s health group.

This story has been updated with additional information.

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