Michigan Republicans are pushing work requirements for Medicaid with a bill that’s passed the state Senate and is being considered in the state House. That’s yet another cruel move designed to deprive poor people of health care—and it’s also designed to spare poor white people and hurt poor black ones, Nicholas Bagley and Eli Savit write in the New York Times. How so?
Many of the legislators supporting Michigan’s work requirements come from rural districts with high unemployment. Many of those districts are predominantly white. To protect their constituents, these legislators have included a safety valve in the bill: If you live in a county with a high unemployment rate (over 8.5 percent), you’re exempt from the work requirements. The rationale? When there are no jobs to be had, it doesn’t make sense to punish you for not working.
Yet that safety valve does not apply equally. Specifically, it does little for Michigan’s black residents, who are concentrated in cities like Detroit, Muskegon and Flint. Those cities suffer from chronically high unemployment rates, but they’re all in counties with low rates. The city of Flint, for example, has an unemployment rate of 10.4 percent; but in Genesee County, where Flint is located, the rate is just 5.8 percent. The upshot is that no one in Michigan’s biggest cities can take advantage of the safety valve — even if there’s no work to be had.
They’re barely even trying to hide the discriminatory intent here. Michigan would need a waiver for the work requirements from the Department of Health and Human Services, Bagley and Savit write, and HHS’s own rules under the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibit “methods of administration that appear neutral but have a discriminatory effect on individuals because of their race.” So you’d think HHS would deny the waiver for this work requirement, or send Michigan legislators back to the drawing board—but then again, this is the Trump administration we’re talking about.
Charles Gaba also highlights another major problem with the work requirement proposal: it would be virtually impossible for a working couple without children to qualify for Medicaid to begin with. But when cruelty is at the root of a policy, pointing out more ways that it’s cruel just shows it was well designed.
Will HHS force Michigan Republicans to go back and make their disgusting proposal less racist, at least? If Trump’s HHS doesn’t act on its own, this could be a matter for a court battle.