Had the Ryan-Trump health care bill been signed into law, 24 million people could have lost their health care—and Donald Trump would have received a $2.18 million annual tax cut. Fortunately, the GOP’s latest attempt to create a windfall for the wealthy at the expense of the poor and working class was defeated. But this week in Mississippi, residents weren’t so lucky.
The conspicuously named HOPE Act (Act to Restore Hope Opportunity and Prosperity for Everyone), introduced by Mississippi State Representative Chris Brown, passed the House and Senate and is now expected to be signed into law. The legislation reads like a compilation of all-time favorites from a Republican wish list: It would enrich a private contractor by outsourcing the work of verifying people’s eligibility for social-support programs, including Medicaid and SNAP (food stamps); throw people who likely qualify for assistance off of these programs; and make it more difficult for people to get food and income assistance in the future.
It does all of this under the guise of helping people—Rep. Brown described the bill as “an incredible opportunity” to help people “move out of welfare dependency and poverty to a better life.” It’s also about eliminating fraud, supposedly, though legislators offered no proof that this is a problem in the state.
The HOPE Act applies to all Mississippians who receive Medicaid, TANF (income assistance), or SNAP. Anyone enrolled in those programs will have 10 days to reply to a written request for information proving eligibility, as deemed necessary by a private contractor hired by the state. That deadline would be tough for anyone to meet, but the fact that many program beneficiaries are disabled, unemployed, lack stable housing, or are simply living under the everyday pressures of poverty makes the deadline all but impossible for many people.
“Just getting that notice to program participants can be a real challenge,” said Matt Williams, the director of research at the Mississippi Low Income Child Care Initiative. “Then you’re talking about making sense of a lot of highly technical information, and putting that in written form too.”
Currently, a Mississippi Department of Human Services (DHS) caseworker determines eligibility by sitting down with an applicant and sorting through liquid assets, utility bills, loans, child-support payments, child-care costs, employee pay stubs, and other sources of income and expenses. It’s a time-consuming process, but the agency has been rewarded for doing it well. Between FY2012 and FY2014, the department received $8.75 million in bonus federal funds for its SNAP-payment accuracy rates.