On Friday, July 28, something rather interesting happened in Congress. In a decisive and dramatic vote, Republican lawmakers failed to pass House Resolution 1628, also known as the Health Care Freedom Act. This vote would seal the Republican’s fourth failure to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) since Mr. Donald J. Trump took office.

Just that week, the Senate had also failed to pass a repeal-and-replace version of the same resolution, then titled the “Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017,” as well as a so-called “clean repeal.”

Having trouble keeping up? That’s probably because, by one count, Republicans have attempted 70 times to modify, undermine, or kill the ACA since its inception.

US Capitol building Congress Senate washington DC. 7 june 2016

These latest repeal efforts faced overwhelming opposition from the American people. According to an AP-NORC poll conducted in July, just 17 percent of Americans supported the GOP’s plan. Part of that stems from the Republican’s utter opacity while writing this bill. But if you want the real reason for America’s revulsion, I think Conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks best explained why:

“People are under assault from technology,” he wrote. “They’re under assault from a breakdown in social fabric, breakdown in families. They have got wage stagnations. They just don’t want a party to come in and say, we’re going to take more away from you. And so Republicans have to wrap their minds around the fact that the American people basically decided that health care is a right, and they figure, we should get health care. And our fellow countrymen should get health care.”

Americans care about each other. Just 6 percent of Americans have gained coverage through the ACA, yet among that 6 percent are our grandparents and children; our friends, families, and loved ones.

When Americans are desperate or hurting, we believe it is right to provide a helping hand. A July 30 column in Civil Beat asked Hawaii residents, “Do We Really Want To Pay People Just For Being Alive?” Based on seven years of voting since the ACA first became law, I think the answer is . . . “yes.”

The question isn’t if we should help each other; it’s how? With our social safety net under attack, perhaps it’s time to consider a new approach to welfare, such as a Universal Basic Income.

Welfare Is In Danger

While healthcare survived this time, I’m afraid welfare might not. On May 22, 2017, the White House budget director Mick Mulvaney announced deep cuts to welfare as part of Trump’s 2017 budget proposal. As the Center for Budget and Policy Priorities exclaims, the “Trump Budget gets three-fifths of its cuts from programs for low- and moderate-income people,” for an estimated $2.5 trillion total cuts over the next decade. The administration plans to take as many people off welfare as possible by adding strict new hurdles for participation in welfare programs.

We’ve seen this all before. In 1997, the Clinton administration transformed the “Aid to Families with Dependent Children” (AFDC) program into the “Temporary Assistance for Needy Families” (TANF) program. Strict new conditions for participation dropped program participation from 13.42 million people in 1995 to just 4.12 million in 2015.

However those reforms only increased the strain on other programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI). Faced with these cuts to welfare, states actively pushed TANF recipients onto SSDI, and between 1995 and 2015, SSDI participation doubled from 5.4 million to 10.2 million while annual costs tripled. The Clinton reforms didn’t solve poverty; they just moved it from one program to the next.

This creates real problems because, as Mr. Mulvaney points out, many people on SSDI should not be there. Unfortunately, that makes the program an easy target for conservatives, and it’s our fault for letting it happen.

The TANF reform kicked millions off the program, and in 2015, only 23 percent of impoverished families received TANF. Those left out include the 1.5 million American households that Edin and Shaefer estimate live on $2.00 per person or less per day. But they also include the millions on SSDI, whose $1,171 income cap makes it impossible to work full-time without losing benefits.

Now they’re about to lose everything.

An Ode To The UBI

The question is, what makes health care and welfare different? Why is one on the chopping block while the other is saved? Why don’t we care about welfare?

The biggest difference is perceptual. Most people don’t think they will ever need welfare, and that creates stigma for those who do. We’ve erected massive barriers to accessing welfare that are designed to be invasive. We demand means-testing, work requirements, and even mandatory drug testing in some states.

Such requirements signal to the public that welfare recipients are lazy drug-users who cannot be trusted. However, as the State of Florida discovered in court, drug-use among welfare recipients is not significantly different from the broader population. As for “lazy,” remember that recipients are often disadvantaged in other ways and the income caps we use create strong disincentives to finding full-time work.

So here’s a solution. If the problem is perceptual, why not give welfare to everyone?

That might sound crazy, but it’s precisely what proponents of a Universal Basic Income (UBI) are calling for. The cost would be high, with conservative proponents like Charles Murray suggesting that we replace all current welfare and subsidy programs with a UBI. However, under this plan, a UBI would start at $13,000 per year, eventually falling to $6,500 as your earned income rises. Cash transfers would be “universal,” meaning that everyone gets one, and “unconditional,” meaning that the cash could be used for any legal purchase. Moreover, such a plan would save $200 billion in the first year.

However, the real goal of a UBI is in facilitating social mobility. While $13,000 a year won’t change everything, it will make a difference in a poor person’s life. $13,000 means making rent after you lose your job. It’s the difference between $30,000 a year minimum wage and $43,000. It means having enough to eat while you go through college. It creates the social safety net needed in an unstable economy.

Americans care about their fellow citizens, but they also want solutions that work. To most, welfare is a confusing web of programs with incomprehensible regulations; the depths from which few ever seem to escape. Baffled and a bit cynical, Americans disengage from the discussion, thereby exposing welfare to attack.

Now, the Trump administration has signaled their plans for welfare reform. Rather than wait for conservatives to reform welfare, I think that this time we should do it ourselves.

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