Nashville Public Radio reported over the weekend that the Tennessee legislature is finalizing legislation that would add work requirements to the state’s Medicaid program, kicking at least 3,700 Tennessee workers off their health care.
The state’s Republican leaders appear to have no qualms about taking health insurance away from Tennesseans who can’t find work or get enough hours at their job—even though taking away someone’s health insurance isn’t going to help them find work any faster, and can actually make it harder to find and keep a job. Instead, debate around the legislation has reportedly centered on how to pay for the new policy. Lawmakers’ own estimates put the price tag for enforcing the new work rules at $10,000 per person disenrolled from Medicaid—which advocates note could be more than the new policy saves.
This is where Tennessee’s proposal gets really evil. Unwilling to foot the bill for their new policy out of the state’s general budget, Republican lawmakers have decided to pay for it with funds from the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program—which provides meager cash assistance to very poor families with children.
While news reports, such as the Nashville Public Radio story noted above, make it sound as though Tennessee’s TANF program is flush with unused cash due to a “booming economy and historically low unemployment,” the real story is much more dire.
Nearly one-quarter of Tennessee children live below the federal poverty line, making it one of the worst states in the nation when it comes to child poverty. But fewer than 1 in 4 poor Tennessee families with children get help from the state’s TANF program, which is one of the stingiest in the country. A Tennessee family of three lucky enough to get temporary assistance can expect to receive a maximum of $185 per month—or a little over $6 a day.
Sadly, huge numbers of affected poor white Tennesseans will vote these people back into office.
And speaking of things as pure as Tennessee whiskey: