SNAP and the Fight Against Extreme Poverty

November 18, 2013 at 2:21 pm

“Food stamp recipients already took a cut in benefits this month, and they may face more [cuts]” as Congress considers slashing program funding, Nicholas Kristof’s latest New York Times column points out.  Kristof focuses on the potential impact on children, many of whom the program — now called SNAP — lifts out of extreme poverty, and his column is well worth a look.

As I explained earlier this year, the number of households with children living on $2 or less per person per day — which is one definition of poverty the World Bank uses for developing nations — more than doubled between 1996 and 2011, to 1.6 million, according to research by the University of Michigan’s H.… Read more

In Case You Missed It…

November 15, 2013 at 3:54 pm

This week on Off the Charts, we focused on health policy, the economy, the federal budget and taxes, Social Security, state budgets and taxes, and housing.

  • On health policy, Edwin Park explained why the fact that Medicaid enrollment has significantly outpaced enrollment in the new health insurance marketplaces is neither a surprise nor a concern.  Matt Broaddus described how the start of the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) shows that early enrollment numbers aren’t a reliable indicator of health reform’s long-term performance. 
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Trade Agreement Threatens to Increase Drug Prices

November 15, 2013 at 1:13 pm

The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) — a trade agreement that the United States and 11 other Pacific-rim countries are negotiating — could raise the cost of prescription drugs and increase health-care spending by governments and private payers.

TPP negotiations are largely secret.  Although the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) consults with representatives of the drug and medical device industries, it does not do so with health care experts or the public.  This week, a group of more than 130 House members urged USTR to adopt a more open negotiating process.… Read more

Jobless Workers Facing Unhappy New Year’s

November 15, 2013 at 11:26 am

My latest post for U.S. News & World Report’s Economic Intelligence blog warns that jobless benefits will end abruptly for over a million Americans the week after Christmas, and many others who’ve recently become unemployed or will become unemployed next year will see them sharply curtailed, unless Congress extends emergency federal unemployment insurance (UI) before year’s end.  That would be bad for the economy as well as these jobless workers.  Here are some excerpts:

To combat the increased hardship and drag on the economy from rising unemployment and longer unemployment spells, policymakers in every recession starting in 1958 have enacted a temporary federal UI program to provide additional weeks of federal benefits.… Read more

Shaping a Deal to Replace Sequestration

November 14, 2013 at 2:18 pm

As congressional negotiators discuss replacing part or all of sequestration for the next year or two with alternative deficit-reduction measures, our new report outlines three features of a well-designed agreement:

  • Any relief from sequestration should be evenly split between defense and non-defense programs. This is necessary to maintain the principle of parity that the 2011 Budget Control Act (BCA) established when it divided the sequestration cuts evenly between defense and non-defense programs.
  • The savings needed to replace sequestration should come from both spending cuts and revenues.
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CBO’s New Deficit Options Include Good, Not-So-Good Housing Ideas

November 14, 2013 at 11:16 am

The Congressional Budget Office’s (CBO) new menu of deficit-reduction options includes one to convert the mortgage interest deduction to a tax credit worth 15 percent of mortgages up to $500,000.  A mortgage interest credit offers a fairer, more efficient alternative to the current deduction.  But another CBO option — eliminating the Low-Income Housing Tax Credit (LIHTC) — would be a step backward in the effort to meet the large and growing need for affordable housing.

The mortgage interest deduction is one of the largest federal tax expenditures, costing about $70 billion a year. … Read more

“Forty Hours Is Full Time Act” Would Be Step Backwards

November 14, 2013 at 9:25 am

A small bipartisan group of senators has asked Senate Budget Committee leaders to include their Forty Hours Is Full Time Act in a final fiscal year 2014 budget resolution.  But raising the threshold for full-time work under health reform from 30 to 40 hours a week, as this measure would do, would exacerbate the very problem that the senators hope to solve — that health reform may lead to more part-time work.

Health reform requires employers with at least 50 full-time-equivalent workers to offer health coverage to full-time employees or pay a penalty.  … Read more

Social Security Is Especially Important to Minorities

November 13, 2013 at 3:20 pm

A recent analysis by economist Eugene Steuerle and colleagues concludes that African Americans and Hispanics as a group each pay more in Social Security taxes in a given year than they receive in benefits.  If true, this stems more from the age composition of the population (as explained below) than from the structure of Social Security.  The fact remains that Social Security is particularly important for minorities.

Social Security’s benefit formula is weighted in favor of low-wage workers, who are disproportionately black and Hispanic; they receive higher monthly benefits as a percentage of their earnings than do higher-wage workers. … Read more

Upton Bill to Allow Insurers to Offer Non-Compliant Plans Would Undermine Health Reform

November 13, 2013 at 2:32 pm

The House is planning to vote this week on a bill allowing insurance companies to continue offering existing individual-market health plans through 2014 — even if the plans do not comply with health reform’s new standards and consumer protections.  The bill, sponsored by House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI), would jeopardize the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in several ways, as we explain in a new paper.

The Upton bill would allow health insurers that had individual-market plans in effect as of January 1, 2013 to continue selling all of those plans throughout 2014. … Read more

Pursuing “Flexibility” Over Replacing Sequestration Is a Distraction — or Worse

November 12, 2013 at 4:20 pm

Many policymakers want to give the President one of Congress’s preeminent powers — to decide how to spend federal funds — so he can shift sequestration cuts from one program to another in hopes of avoiding some of sequestration’s worst effects.  Yet these “flexibility” proposals, which some policymakers want to include in current budget negotiations, can’t solve the two basic problems that the President and Congress face on this year’s budget.

First and most important, overall funding levels under sequestration are simply too low. … Read more

CHIP’s Start: Lessons for Early Enrollment Under Health Reform

November 12, 2013 at 3:45 pm

The Administration is expected to issue estimates this week of enrollment since October 1 in health reform’s Medicaid expansion and its new health insurance marketplaces — and some media have already reported that the numbers did not meet Administration expectations.  But, as we’ve learned by examining the early experience with the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), early enrollment numbers aren’t a reliable indicator of health reform’s long-term performance.

CHIP — now recognized as an undeniable success — started slowly, too.  When the program started in fiscal year 1998, only eight states began enrolling low-income children in the first quarter. … Read more

Faster Medicaid Enrollment Neither a Surprise Nor a Concern

November 12, 2013 at 3:07 pm

The Administration is expected to issue estimates this week of enrollment to date in health reform’s major coverage expansions, which take effect next January.  Media reports (see here and here) indicate that Medicaid enrollment has significantly outpaced enrollment in the new health insurance marketplaces.  That’s not a surprise, even apart from the well-documented technical problems affecting the federal marketplace website.  Nor is it a cause for concern.

The quicker rate of Medicaid enrollments isn’t burdening states with unexpected costs — and it’s great news for the low-income individuals and families gaining coverage through the program.  … Read more