The Real Effect of Reforming Government Programs

Before Pesach, I wrote a column about the ideas being put forward by Republicans such as Paul Ryan and Bobby Jindal. In that column, I argued that while they contain ideas that are easy to demagogue and distort as being bad for those in our community who are less financially secure, nothing can be further from the truth.

The Democrats always sell their ideas and proposals with absolutes. As a candidate for president in 2008, President Obama said, “I will sign a universal health care bill into law by the end of my first term as president that will cover every American and cut the cost of a typical family’s premium by up to $2,500 a year.” That would have been wonderful for many families in our community.

We all know that that was not the case. Premiums rose, as the Republicans had warned they would. Then the wave of cancelled plans came, along with doctors and hospitals who refused to accept many of the plans provided on the Obamacare exchange.

If that is not enough of a reason to approach the promises of Democrats vis-à-vis entitlements with an abundance of caution, just take a look at what the entitlement state has wrought. More Americans are on some form of government assistance than at any time in history. And while the function of the social safety net is a noble one (which is to catch those who are falling and save them from harm), in many cases it ends up having a deleterious effect on those who get caught in the aforementioned net.

The means testing used to determine eligibility, and the way the benefits are provided, have the effect of incentivizing poverty — or at least whatever the government is recognizing as being eligible for assistance. Once individuals or families are reliant on “programs,” the ability to free themselves from the shackles of the benefit becomes increasingly difficult, particularly regarding the subsidies provided by the government on the exchange. If you earn up to 400 percent of the national poverty level, you can get your plan subsidized by the government, oftentimes to the tune of over $10,000 a year. But if you make just one dollar over that number, you lose the entire subsidy. In some cases that means you would need to earn almost $14,000 more to make up for the lost subsidy — and that is a jump that is hard to make.

It almost sounds as if the Democrats wrote a law that encourages people to earn less money. This is true. In October, Karen Pollitz of the Kaiser Family Foundation, a group that has been working closely with the administration on Obamacare, said that “If they can adjust (their income), they should. It’s not cheating, it’s allowed.”

The Democrats’ solution to every problem is a government-based solution which encourages reliance and locks the recipient into a cycle of dependency.

Republican solutions are dramatically different. Solutions that encourage self-reliance, promote upward mobility, and provide opportunity are what the various proposals from that side of the aisle all have in common — all while taking care of those who are truly the most vulnerable among us.

We should take a good look at both parties. Yes, the Republicans have different ideas about how food stamps and Medicaid should be administered, which may lead to cuts in SNAP benefits for some families. But merely looking at those few programs may be shortsighted.

Only one party believes that parents with children should get tuition assistance in private schools, which includes yeshivos; the other does not. There is no question at all on this. Take the recent Education Investment Tax Credit issue in New York. Despite the difference it would have made for our families, Governor Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver refused to pass it, despite its only amounting to 0.1percent of the budget.

And then there’s the issue of child tax credits. From the 2012 election, when Rick Santorum proposed tripling the personal exemption for dependent children and keeping the child tax credits, to the plans to expand the tax credit that were recently floated by Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Dave Camp, there is always talk about finding ways to make the tax code work better for families, especially those with many children.

I am willing to go out on a limb and say that even if you were to disregard the unsustainability factor that plagues many of these programs (and the eventual drastic disruption of benefits it would cause), the Republican plans are better for our community. If you were to analyze the simple dollars and cents of the combined benefits of tuition assistance, child credits, and reformed entitlements, there would be more money in the pocket of virtually every member of our community. And besides the benefit this would provide our low-income brothers, the more tangible benefit would be felt by our middle-to-high income earners.

Our community excels at taking care of each other. The more money that is kept in our community and out of the bureaucratic hands of government means more money that can be dedicated to yeshivos, to mosdos, and to simple tzedakah. We are gomlei chassadim, and with Hashem’s help, we can take care of our own better than any government program.