Conservative Democrats are insisting on including resource testing for key social programs in Democrats’ Build Back Better law – a practice Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-New York) condemned on Sunday for creating unnecessary barriers for them. people seeking government assistance.
“Means tests = more bureaucracy, paperwork and waste”, Ocasio-Cortez wrote. “This is why programs where means testing is implemented are less popular, not more popular. It is also why many people eligible for means-tested programs still do not receive health care or assistance – it is too difficult. “
Senator Joe Manchin (D-West Virginia) led the charge for the application of means testing to the Reconciliation Bill programs. In a July memo that was largely secret until recently, Manchin highlighted his demands for the bill, claiming that social spending must be tempered with “Means testing safeguards / formulas on new spending”, “targeted spending limits” and “no additional documents”.
Manchin has doubled down on his demands for cuts in social spending in recent weeks, publicly declaring that he favors work requirements for some programs. “I cannot accept that our economy or fundamentally our society is evolving towards a mentality of right,” he said last week in a speech that is typically right-wing. comment to journalists.
Many of the reconciliation bill’s programs already have some form of means testing; the child tax credit, for example, has a salary cap for households. But Manchin wants to lower that cap, limiting the program that helped halve child poverty during the pandemic.
Progressive proponents say that at best, means tests are a waste of time for poor families who depend on government programs to stay afloat. At worst, it can serve as a punishment for people experiencing poverty, or outright a barrier to accessing government assistance.
“For those who do not know the expression,” means to test “is the art of limiting the possible”, wrote MSNBCby Hayes Brown. The easiest way to ensure low-income students have access to school lunch, Brown continued, is to use federal funding to provide free lunch for all public school students. When the government limits free meals to only the children who need them, the process becomes much more complicated for families to navigate – requiring a series of complex steps “just to make sure that a child whose parents earn a little. too much money or who qualifies but has never completed the form does not have access to the lunch provided by the school.
This means that testing not only prevents some people from accessing needed support, it can also depress the beneficiaries of the program ‘ finances. For example, asset limits associated with the Supplemental Security Income Program (SSI) have been shown to push beneficiaries deeper into poverty, in part because the limits have not been updated for decades. .
Ocasio-Cortez pointed out over the weekend that imposing income and work limits on government programs is not even effective by conservative lawmakers’ own standards. “Even if you are a person who fully believes in means testing, the US doesn’t even measure poverty accurately to use for a means test.” she wrote. “The United States measures poverty at 3 times the cost of the minimum diet, assumes the worker has a spouse at home for child care, and does not factor in the cost of living.”
“This means that there are probably MANY more poor people in the United States than we would admit. Policymakers know that, so they try to compensate by making federal policies 150% of the federal poverty line, and so on. But when the measure is so absurd, even 150% of the poverty line has little basis ”, she continued, highlighting a bill she introduced in 2019 which would reformulate the calculations of the poverty line.
The means tests have caused schisms between Democrats, in part because of the debates over who is considered poor and who is not. When conservative Democrats make it harder for those who need access to resources the most, it can also erode public trust in social programs.
However, lawmakers like Manchin don’t necessarily care about what’s popular. Means test is favored by deep-pocketed lobbyists who oppose social spending, in large part because social programs that cast a wider net lead to more taxes on wealthy people and corporations. Time and time again, Manchin has demonstrated his loyalty to lobbyists and lobbied to reduce the reconciliation bill – and he is prepared to make it harder for the public to access popular proposals to do so.