Medicare and Medicaid Should Be Protected in Trade Agreements

October 22, 2014 at 3:39 pm

CBPP, AARP, the AFL-CIO, Consumers Union, and ten other national organizations have written to the U.S. Trade Representative asking that Medicare, Medicaid, and other health programs be excluded from the investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS) provisions of pending trade agreements.

ISDS would give companies a new legal avenue to challenge U.S. pricing and patent policies for drugs and medical devices: the ability to sue the U.S. government before an international arbitration panel that wouldn’t be subject to normal democratic checks and balances.  In our letter, we say:

ISDS . . . would allow global pharmaceutical firms to challenge mechanisms that state legislatures, the Congress and public agencies use to manage pharmaceutical costs in public programs.  For example, a pharmaceutical company could challenge a state’s Medicaid preferred drug list or drug utilization management rules that limit access to a certain drug under specific circumstances.  Reimbursement policies for medicines under Medicare Part B could be challenged.  If adopted, the President’s own proposal to establish rebates under the Medicare Part D program for low-income beneficiaries could be subject to an ISDS challenge.  Simply stated, ISDS would impose an unnecessary risk to government administered health programs by limiting what policy makers can do to keep these programs affordable for taxpayers and beneficiaries.

Concerns about ISDS are growing and span the political spectrum.  In a recent editorial, The Economist suggested various ways of defining and narrowing the scope of ISDS, including exempting measures “to protect legitimate public welfare objectives, such as health, safety, and the environment,” allowing only governments to bring complaints against another government, and making proceedings public and subject to appeal.  As The Economist concludes, “Firms need protection; but so does the right of governments to pursue reasonable policies.”

4 Ways to Help More Families Use Vouchers to Live in Low-Poverty Neighborhoods

October 22, 2014 at 2:58 pm

The Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program has reduced families’ housing cost burdens and homelessness and boosted their housing stability, but its performance in helping families live in low-poverty, high-opportunity neighborhoods has been disappointing, as we explain in our recent paper.

Overall, just about 20 percent of the families with children who use housing vouchers live in high-opportunity neighborhoods with access to good schools, safe streets, and high rates of employment.  Almost 10 percent — including a quarter of a million children — of families in the program live in extreme-poverty neighborhoods, where at least 40 percent of the residents are poor.… Read more

A Dangerous Way to “Fix” American Government

October 21, 2014 at 4:21 pm

“A dangerous proposal is circulating in states across the country that could widen political divisions and jeopardize cherished rights and freedoms,” CBPP President Robert Greenstein explains today in the Washington Post’s PostEverything blog.  He continues:

The push is coming primarily from well-organized, arch-conservative groups seeking to capitalize on the decline in public trust in government to limit the federal government’s role and spending powers.  And the method they prefer is a constitutional convention — the first since the 1787 conclave that produced the U.S.

Read more

Improving Children’s Chances of a Better Life

October 21, 2014 at 2:44 pm

In a new commentary for Spotlight on Poverty and Opportunity, CBPP Vice President for Housing Policy Barbara Sard outlines steps that federal, state, and local agencies can take to help tens of thousands of children and their families avoid living in violent neighborhoods of extreme poverty — and enable more of them to choose to live in low-poverty neighborhoods with high-quality schools.  Here’s the opening:

Nearly 4 million children live in low-income families that receive federal rental assistance, which not only helps them keep a roof over their heads but also has the potential to enable children to grow up in better neighborhoods with more opportunities.  

Read more
CBPP

Health Reform Reduces the Deficit, Contrary to Senate GOP Analysis

October 21, 2014 at 5:00 am

A recent analysis by Senate Budget Committee Republican staff that claims health reform will increase the deficit rests on two dubious propositions.  Under more reasonable assumptions, health reform will reduce the deficit, as the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and Joint Committee on Taxation have consistently estimated.  Just a few months ago, CBO Director Douglas Elmendorf wrote, “the agencies have no reason to think that their initial assessment that [health reform] would reduce budget deficits was incorrect.”

How did the Senate Budget Committee’s Republican staff reach such a different conclusion?… Read more

What Housing Vouchers Mean to Poor Minority Families, Part 2: Help in Avoiding Extreme-Poverty Neighborhoods

October 20, 2014 at 3:24 pm

I explained earlier today that housing vouchers make a big difference for minority families’ ability to live in a low-poverty neighborhood.  They also help poor black and Hispanic families with children avoid neighborhoods of concentrated poverty.

Researchers generally agree that living in neighborhoods of extreme poverty, in which 40 percent or more of the inhabitants are poor, is particularly harmful to children.  Nationwide, nearly 15 percent of poor children live in such neighborhoods.  These neighborhoods are more likely than others to have high rates of crime and violence, poorly performing schools, few college-educated adults, low employment rates, and limited opportunities for physical recreation.… Read more

What Housing Vouchers Mean to Minority Families, Part 1: They’re Better Able to Live in Low-Poverty Neighborhoods

October 20, 2014 at 2:38 pm

The Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program falls short of its potential to expand children’s access to good schools in safe neighborhoods, as I’ve explained.  Although a voucher makes little difference in a poor white family’s ability to live in a low-poverty neighborhood, it makes a large difference for minority families.

Among poor families, more than twice the share of black children — and close to double the share of Hispanic children — using housing vouchers lived in low-poverty neighborhoods (those with less than 10 percent poverty) in 2010, compared with poor black and Hispanic children generally (see chart). … Read more

Why Money Doesn’t Walk

October 20, 2014 at 11:24 am

We’ve shown that interstate differences in tax levels have little effect on whether and where people move, contrary to claims by some tax-cut proponents.  The related claim — that people who leave a state take their incomes with them, harming that state’s economy — isn’t true either, our new paper explains.

The vast majority of people can’t take their income with them to a new state because they work for someone else.  When people leave a state, they usually also leave their job. … Read more

In Case You Missed It…

October 17, 2014 at 4:08 pm

This week on Off the Charts, we focused on new Census data on poverty and the safety net, housing, state budgets and taxes, food assistance, health policy, and the economy.

  • On the new Census data, Danilo Trisi previewed the statistics and, after their release, explained that safety net programs cut the poverty rate nearly in half in 2013.  Brynne Keith-Jennings reported that SNAP (formerly food stamps) kept 4.8 million people, including 2.1 million children, out of poverty.  Will Fischer noted that rental assistance kept over 3 million people out of poverty.  
Read more

Housing Vouchers Help Families Live in Better Neighborhoods — But They Can Do More

October 17, 2014 at 2:35 pm

Policymakers over the last several decades have tried to improve low-income families’ access to low-poverty, higher-opportunity neighborhoods.  With this goal in mind, they’ve relied increasingly on housing vouchers so that families can choose where to live rather than be limited to government-funded projects that often are in very poor, segregated neighborhoods.  Despite these efforts, the Housing Choice Voucher (HCV) program falls short of its potential to expand children’s access to good schools in safe neighborhoods, as we explain in our new paper.… Read more

New Poverty Figures Show Impact of Working-Family Tax Credits

October 17, 2014 at 2:05 pm
The Child Tax Credit (CTC) and Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) together lifted 9.4 million people out of poverty in 2013 and made 22.2 million others less poor, our analysis of Census data released yesterday show.Read more

Why We Should Give Wages Room to Grow

October 17, 2014 at 1:35 pm

My latest post for U.S. News’ Economic Intelligence blog shows that American workers have been shortchanged in the recovery from the Great Recession and explains why the projected quickening of wage growth over the next few years won’t trigger an upward spiral of wages and prices.  It says in part:

How can wage increases go from 2 percent per year to 3.5 percent [as the Congressional Budget Office projects will occur over the next three years] without igniting unacceptable inflation?  The answer lies in the arithmetic of prices, productivity and labor costs.

Read more