While meant to provide accessible health care, recent events have shown how the Affordable Care Act (ACA) will likely serve as another tool for disciplining low-wage workers.
Last week, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker announced that he will be using the ACA to cut the state’s Medicaid program. Although Wisconsin’s current policy provides coverages to people who earn up to 200% of the poverty line, Medicaid under the ACA will only cover those up to 100% of the poverty line, forcing the others to find healthcare in the private market.
The aim, Walker said, is “to get more people out into the workplace, more people covered when it comes to health care and fewer people dependent on the government, not because we’ve kicked them out, but we’ve empowered them to take control of their own destiny.”
Walker’s quote reveals the bait-and-switch of the ACA: the policy that is meant to expand social welfare and save individuals money is in reality reinforcing the idea that the poor should be working harder, pulling themselves up by their bootstraps, and taking care of themselves (including when it comes to healthcare).
Walker’s words are part of a long history of romanticizing self-sufficiency and questioning the morality of people on public assistance. While other welfare programs have already faced drastic cuts because of similar arguments (see our earlier post on food stamps), politicians on both sides of the isle are now turning to Medicaid as their next target in the moral crusade on the poor, and they’re using the Affordable Care Act to do it.
The Florence Johnston Collective will be offering a more in-depth analysis of the Affordable Care Act in the coming weeks.
As political campaigns to raise the minimum wage grab headlines, there is a decrease in the federal minimum wage on the horizon that nobody is talking about. The coming reduction in the wage for working class people in the United States, employed and unemployed, will come from a two pronged reduction in SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) benefits, better known as food stamps. These cuts will affect the 50 million people struggling to feed themselves and their families in the current economic depression. And these nationwide cuts, effecting every recipient, just may provide workers with the broad basis for action against the system that keeps them broke, overworked, and dependent on their boss and the state just to survive.
The state calls food stamps “benefits” and “entitlements”, and tells people they are a privilege, not a right. Some politicians talk about food stamps like they are state sponsored charity. But SNAP benefits are a part of the wage for the lowest strata of the working class. They are the piece of the paycheck necessary to buy food, a piece that the capitalists refuse to pay.
SNAP cuts must be recognized as wage cuts, and fought against by the cooperation of all working class people, no matter whether they receive benefits, and especially by the working class people who work in food stamp and other benefit centers. We need to help build this movement by facilitating these connections, and agitating beyond the reformist lines.
Accordingly we can’t simply defend the program or demand more benefits. The SNAP program itself must be understood as a tool used to discipline the working class. No matter how high they are, these benefits hold a small amount of working class peoples’ wages over their heads to make them dependent, subject them to humiliating privacy violations like drug tests and endless bureaucratic hurdles, and provide a cheap compensation for the loss of real jobs, the ever-diminishing standard of living, and the mass incarceration of tens of millions of Americans. This is why we don’t simply need more food stamps, but the end of the system that makes food stamps necessary to survive.