Thanks to new policy guidance issued by the Trump administration, states can now require able-bodied recipients of taxpayer-funded health care to engage in some type of productive activity. One would think that the only troubling aspect of this is that any policy change was necessary to allow such a common-sense policy. Sadly, however, the ink was barely dry before the opposition tirades began.
An editorial in the Washington Post, for instance, referred to the move as "A solution in search of a problem." After all, the Post pointed out, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation, 60 percent of non-disabled Medicaid recipients already work. (The average, hard-working American may well be wondering why the other 40 percent of this non-disabled population – 4 out of 10 – are not working, but rather living off the backs of others who do. The Post apparently does not suffer from such curiosity.)
Work requirements are evidence-based. The guidance issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services cites multiple studies demonstrating that unemployment is harmful to one's physical and mental health, and that working tends to decrease depression. But even science cannot pacify liberal activists who are convinced that sinister motives lurk behind efforts to help the poor lift themselves to success. Thus Brad Woodhouse, director of "Protect our Care Campaign," called the work requirement "not just a shift in policy, but a shift in the fundamental decency of the United States."
Advertisement - story continues below
One wonders whether he has actually read the CMS Guidance, which includes not only the sturdy rationale for activating human potential through work requirements, but also an expansive list of factors states should consider in creating exemptions from the requirement. These include age, caregiving, or participation in a drug or alcohol treatment program. The guidance also urges states to consider a variety of activities to meet work requirement, including volunteer programs.
The Post complains, nevertheless, that the requirement is "superfluous" and "harmful." It offers no evidence to support the latter contention. And even if we assume, for the sake of argument, that work requirements will, in fact, be "superfluous" because every non-disabled, non-working Medicaid recipient is already engaged in productive activity that would meet the requirement or exempt her from it, there is still an excellent reason for codifying it: to ensure that our public policy recognizes the role of work in human flourishing.
Work not only improves the human condition, it is good for the human spirit. The misguided rush to shield able-bodied Americans from work that allows them to earn their own living, care for their own families or serve their communities may masquerade as some sick kind of "compassion," but is really nothing less than what President George W. Bush described as "the soft bigotry of low expectations." It insults the dignity of an able-bodied human being to suggest that the world should expect no contribution from him – not even enough to provide for his own needs.
I have a friend who once taught in an impoverished, rural community. She recalls a time when she asked an elementary school student what he wanted to be when he grew up. He looked at her blankly, so she explained, "for a job – what do you want your job to be?" And he responded, "I'm not going to have a job. I'm just going to get my check." She realized that he had never seen his parents hold a job; he had only seen them receive "assistance" from the unseen hand of government.
Advertisement - story continues below
That, my dear readers, is a tragedy. I hope and pray that this child and others like him will have caring adults like my friend in their lives to raise a high and healthy bar of expectation for them that will drive them to make use of every ounce of their potential.
We live in a time and place where an encouraged and determined child faces few barriers to educational and economic achievement. Even so, let's remember that one need not be a physicist, doctor, or engineer to contribute. The delivery person with a spring in his step; the fast-food server with a smile on her face; the soup kitchen volunteer; the single mom teaching her toddler the alphabet – each one makes a distinct and valuable contribution to society that should never be dismissed or overlooked.
Contributions like these should be valued and encouraged. To advocate instead for leaving the poor in a lifetime of idleness, poverty and dependence, is profoundly uncharitable.