SPLC claims Medicaid work requirements have disparate impact on communities of color

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In January, Gov. Kay Ivey and state Medicaid officials revealed a plan for Alabama to become the newest state to institute a work requirement for some Medicaid recipients.

Ivey’s office announced in March, that the Yellowhammer State would formally be seeking permission from the federal government to make that change to its Medicaid program.

Ivey’s administration and Alabama Medicaid believe the changes will put Alabamians on a path to better health outcomes, but Sam Brooke, deputy legal director for the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), disagrees.

“We have long known that subjecting Medicaid recipients to bureaucratic hurdles like work requirements will force them off the rolls, and that those forced to work who aren’t able will assuredly see their health decline,” he said.

“We are now seeing that, in an effort to mitigate these harms in rural, predominantly white counties where few jobs are offered, the government will make an exception. This is particularly problematic because the unemployment rate in urban centers is often just as bad or worse, but it is masked by the use of county-wide data that includes much better off and affluent white neighborhoods.”

Brooke believes the work requirements will disadvantage communities of color, in the crossfire of  “welfare reform.”

“These changes are not reform,” said Brooke. “They are benefit cuts intended to save dollars by kicking off people of color who are deemed ‘undeserving’ by criteria that are neither fair nor objective. We’ve seen this before. We don’t need to make this mistake again.”

Ivey’s proposal would only apply to “able-bodied” Parent or Caretaker Relative (POCR) recipients — with exemptions being made for people with disabilities, anyone who pregnant or receiving post-partum care, anyone required to care for a disabled child or adult, among others — that will  require unemployed or underemployed adults to become gainfully employed, or participate in training opportunities to enhance their potential for full employment.

Several other Republican majority states are seeking similar Medicaid work waivers, with Kentucky being the first state to move forward with the work requirements, which the Trump administration approved in January.

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