News Release

Can the Stimulus Expand the Safety Net?


Many media outlets have echoed a Wednesday front-page piece in the New York Times headlined “Relief Seen for Jobless and States in Health Care Plan,” which asserted: “The stimulus bill working its way through Congress is not just a package of spending increases and tax cuts intended to jolt the nation out of recession. For Democrats, it is also a tool for rewriting the social contract with the poor, the uninsured and the unemployed, in ways they have long yearned to do.”

The two following noted analysts offer differing perspectives:

Piven is author of numerous books including the recently released Challenging Authority: How Ordinary People Change America and The Breaking of the American Social Compact. She is distinguished professor of political science and sociology at the Graduate School and University Center of the City University of New York.

Piven said today: “The current fight in the House over the extension of Medicaid is the opening shot in a battle over the American safety net that is inevitable, fueled as it is by recent Democratic victories and by serious economic troubles. We need this fight. Over the past few decades Republicans have worked to steadily whittle away the protections won by ordinary people against unemployment and poverty, and Democrats have often helped them, as President Clinton did when he championed the elimination of Aid to Families of Dependent Children as an entitlement. This has been hard not only on the poor and the unemployed, but on low-wage and precarious workers. The result is that the United States stands out among rich countries for its high levels of poverty and inequality. Reversing these trends should be a first priority of President Obama and the Democratic Congress.”
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Co-editor of the two-volume Poverty in the United States: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics and Policy and author of Welfare’s End, Mink said today: “The stimulus package currently working its way through Congress would temporarily extend Medicaid eligibility to unemployed workers who are receiving unemployment insurance. Though much-needed and welcomed, Medicaid expansion does not repair the tattered safety net. It is a relief measure, by definition short-term and palliative. The COBRA proposal would expand COBRA eligibility for long-term workers and for workers over age 55 who lose their jobs. Though a useful health insurance bridge between jobs or until Medicare kicks in at age 65, the COBRA proposal advances a privatized solution to health coverage rather than expanding the safety net to guarantee health care for all. Neither health proposal takes us toward universal health care, and so neither proposal renews or redesigns the social contract — unless palliative crisis intervention is meant to replace durable social protections that promote the long-term economic security of individuals.

“If the president and Congress truly are interested in repairing the safety net, they would immediately lift the time limits on welfare eligibility so that poor families can survive hard times. If the president and Congress truly are interested in universal health care, they would expand Medicare rather than tinker with Medicaid and COBRA. If the president and Congress truly are interested in investing in the economic security of all Americans, they would start by assuring that the stimulus package assists everyone — including women, who need reproductive health care, living-wage jobs, comparable pay, and recognition for caregiving.”
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For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167