Let’s get real.
Ignore political ideology for a moment.
Mississippi is a poor state, persistently landing near the bottom in income, health and education rankings. Many families depend heavily on federal benefits to survive. So too does state government (44 percent of total spending). Many small businesses’ survival depends heavily on federally subsidized families and government.
Yes, federal spending is out of control. Yes, we have too many people on the dole. But the reality is we desperately need every federal dollar we can get.
So how smart was it for Mississippi to cut off SNAP (food stamp) benefits early?
Mississippi chose not to extend a waiver allowing us to pay extra SNAP benefits to unemployed, unmarried, able-bodied adults ages 19 to 49 without children. Thousands will lose $190 a month unless they get a job.
Sure, these people should be working. But many live in areas where there are no jobs, others where there are no jobs for their limited skill sets. Still others are paroled criminals or former drug users whom employers refuse to hire. For those with no job options, why cut them off early?
“Anything that would reduce or eliminate the means by which some customers pay for their needs couldn’t be anything but harmful,” a spokesman for Vowell’s Cash Saver grocery told Jackson’s WAPT News, adding that up to 75 percent of his business comes from SNAP users.
Meanwhile, these federal dollars continue to pour into other states.
Yes, a smart Mississippi might leverage every available federal dollar and use the taxes they generate to operate programs that will make future generations and governments far less dependent on federal funds.
So how smart is it for Mississippi not to go after billions of Medicaid dollars?
State officials mired in anti-Obama ideology insist we can’t afford it. But independent studies show a smart expansion of Medicaid would more than pay for itself, generate thousands of new jobs and put billions more federal dollars into Mississippi’s economy, not to mention improving health care for thousands of low-income, hard-working Mississippians and their families.
Kaiser Family Foundation research also shows Medicaid expansion states had higher rates of economic growth than nonexpansion states.
Medicaid is a major magnet for federal dollars. Mississippi taxpayers this year are projected to put in $949 million, down from last year, plus $521 million from providers like nursing homes and hospitals to attract $4.6 billion in federal funds. That’s terrific leverage for taxpayers.
A smart Mississippi might implement plans like Republican governors Mike Pence did in Indiana and Asa Hutchinson supports in Arkansas. Yes, Trump’s Mike Pence. His Healthy Indiana Plan is touted as the nation’s most conservative Medicaid reform plan.
“We’re not going to leave 220,000 people without some recourse,” Hutchinson said.
“We are expanding access to care for hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers and we’re doing it the Indiana way,” Pence said.
Perhaps it’s time to set aside ideology, like Pence and Hutchinson, and honestly ask if the current Mississippi way is the smart way.
Write Bill Crawford, a syndicated columnist from Meridian, at email@example.com.