Reviews | Why do we force the poor to run an obstacle course to get help?

“Every interaction a person has with their government, whether it’s stopping traffic or going to the DMV or accessing SNAP – that’s where democracy happens,” m said Elizabeth Linos, behavioral economist at Berkeley. “If we get all these little interactions, then we’ve created a society where the government listens to its citizens, and the citizens trust that it will deliver on what it says it will.”

Mr Biden’s executive order notes that it’s about both getting people what they need and proving that “democracy still works”. And yet, it is clear that his administration has only partially learned its own lessons. Just look at his two approaches to free at-home Covid testing. All Americans can go to a Postal Service website, enter their addresses and sign up in minutes to receive four free tests per household.

But when a household runs out of its four free tests, its members have to struggle with the other option put in place by the administration. Insurers have been ordered to cover eight tests a month for free. This of course excludes the 27.4 million people without insurance. Even if you have it, if you don’t purchase the tests from your insurer’s preferred pharmacy, you should prepay, keep your receipt and maybe even the test box, and submit a claim for reimbursement, then fight for it. treaty.

There are trade-offs, given the priority objectives. Is it more important to reduce the use of government resources? Is it more important to prevent the so-called unworthy from sneaking in? Or is the goal to ensure that as many eligible people get the benefits they deserve as soon as possible?

Previously, experts believed that those who needed help the most would work the hardest to get it, overcoming all the obstacles that stood in their way. But this is not true. Work requirements, for example, mostly kept people off welfare and made them further impoverished, and when it was briefly instituted in Arkansas’ Medicaid program, a work requirement was expelled people – many of whom were indeed qualified – without increasing the number of people working.

“The pandemic has given us the opportunity to rethink whether all of these hurdles were necessary or not,” Dr Linos said. More people were made eligible for unemployment insurance. Stimulus checks have been sent to most Americans with no strings attached. Rent assistance rules have been relaxed to help the money flow faster.

The organization Code for America has long focused on making it easier for people to access the benefits to which they are entitled. So when Democrats expanded Child Tax Credit payments, they created a simple site for non-filers to claim. The site only looked for information that the IRS was unable to obtain itself, such as bank details, and did not require people to find a bunch of documents. The questions have been simplified. It was available in Spanish and English. Families were able to fill out the form in 10-15 minutes and virtually all of them did not require assistance. More than 115,000 households used the website to claim $438 million in less than three months, about a quarter of whom had never filed a tax return before.

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