4 Ways Romney & Ryan Would Roll Back the 20th Century
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Vice-presidential candidate Ryan’s budget plan would eliminate the Affordable Care Act, vaporizing the $642 billion allotted to that expansion. But that’s just the warmup. The Ryan plan would also reduce present Medicaid spending by $750 billion over the next 10 years. That’s about a third of the program gone, and between 14 and 19 million more Americans added to the ranks of the uninsured, already well to the north of 50 million.
The savings would come from turning Medicaid into a block grant program, which means that the federal government’s contribution to Medicaid would be frozen, with annual adjustments for inflation and population growth. The problem is that medical costs rise faster than the general rate of inflation, especially in America’s unregulated medical markets, so the block grant provided for each state would quickly decline in value.
The other problem with block grants is that they cannot respond to need. If a recession strikes and millions are suddenly plunged into poverty, Medicaid as currently constituted can expand to accommodate the needy. But the strictly defined allocations of block grants do not include provisions for economic crisis and in the event that would mean the states would have to handle the entire expanded burden. And since most state governments can’t run budget deficits, even in times of economic turmoil, they would simply be unable to cover the newly uninsured.
2. Eliminate Low-Income Housing
Public housing programs would suffer badly under a Republican presidency as well. Romney has strongly hinted hat he would eliminate the entire Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). The vast majority of HUD funding goes towards an array of public and affordable housing programs.
For example, Section 8 of the Housing Act provides assistance to help families rent in the private market. But as Ben Adler recently noted, Republicans have long fantasized about transforming Section 8 from its current flexible budget to a rigid block grant funding structure. Under such a scheme, states would probably also be given the power to regulate eligibility just as they currently do with Medicaid, which would mean that many fewer Americans will be able to access the program.
Here are some numbers to go with that airy fretting. This spring HUD Secretary Shaun Donovan was asked to testify before a Congressional committee and queried (by a Democrat, naturally) about the impact of the Ryan budget upon public housing: He estimates that more than one million households would be at risk. That includes 585,000 lost units of housing under the Housing Choice Voucher Program (the largest of Section 8’s programs), 425,000 from the Project-Based Voucher Program, and from 110,000 to 180,000 from an array of programs for the homeless. Donovan also testified that tens of thousands of new affordable housing units simply wouldn’t be built. Lord knows, there aren’t, say, 636,017 Americans in need of homes or anything.
3. Stamp Out Food Security
The supplemental nutritional assistance program (SNAP), what used to be called food stamps, is destined for vast cuts under a Republican administration, and largely through a tool that should now be familiar. Block granting SNAP would render it ineffectual in the face of a recession, just like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) during the recent downturn. When poverty and unemployment went up during the Great Recession, SNAP enrollment rose right along with them, demonstrating its effectiveness at partially protecting Americans from the economic turbulence. But TANF, the block grant cash assistance program created by President Clinton’s welfare reform in 1996, did not. Its strict budgetary limitations did not allow it to respond to the woes of millions of Americans who could have used the help.