How Republicans and Democrats Differ When It Comes to the Poor

On housing and health care in blue states and red ones

The Wolfpack

In an Op-Ed piece this weekend, Krugman pointed out that red states and blue states approach poverty quite differently.

States with consistently conservative governments generally offered benefits to as few people as the law allowed, sometimes only to adults with children in truly dire poverty. States with more liberal governments extended benefits much more widely.

He notes that states were given an opportunity to expand Medicaid under Obamacare and while blue states generally took advantage of the chance to use federal funds to help cover health care for low-income residents, red states generally did not.

California — where Democrats are firmly in control, thanks to the GOP’s alienation of minority voters — shows how it’s supposed to work: The state established its own health exchange, carefully promoting and regulating competition, and engaged in outreach to inform the public and encourage enrollment. The result has been dramatic success in holding down costs and reducing the number of uninsured.
Needless to say, nothing like this has happened in red states. And while the number of uninsured has declined even in these states, thanks to the federal exchanges, the gap between red and blue states has widened.

In short, he asks, “Why are states like Texas so dead-set against helping the unfortunate, even if the feds are willing to pick up the tab?”

There are ideological rationales, of course, and we can argue over Obamacare forever. Still, the piece reminds me of a comment Jay Sun left recently on a discussion of over-priced city housing.

can we stop the knee jerk “blame the Republican” for this problem? This issue exists almost exclusively in major, desirable cities in which the preponderance of elected officials are Democrats. If anything, Republicans are better on the issue of affordable housing they’re usually aligned with wealthy commercial interests (real estate developers and the banks that finance them), as opposed to wealthy personal interests.

In an attempt to address the question objectively, I did some Googling. The initial results only reinforced my impression that Democrats have the edge on this issue.

Even when I searched more intensely, I couldn’t find a single article that argued Jay’s point, that Republicans were better on the issue of affordable housing. I did, however, find this piece, which emphasized how important the issue is to voters generally and younger voters specifically, and which compared the platforms of both parties.

In their respective 2016 party platforms, Republicans and Democrats unsurprisingly took different approaches toward the issue of housing and homeownership. Republicans mentioned the spike in rental costs since the recession but focused on increasing homeownership and reducing the government’s role in housing. “Our goal is to advance responsible homeownership while guarding against the abuses that led to the housing collapse,” said the 2016 platform, which Republicans at the convention adopted on Monday. “We must scale back the federal role in the housing market, promote responsibility on the part of borrowers and lenders, and avoid future taxpayer bailouts.”
Republicans also called for a “comprehensive review of federal regulations, especially those dealing with the environment, that make it harder and more costly for Americans to rent, buy, or sell homes.”

The Republican stance on housing, then, is that government shouldn’t get involved, except to roll back regulations that might affect prices. Fair, maybe, but not likely to be that helpful to low-income folks, especially in the short term.

NextCity points out that the GOP is not overly engaged with, and is maybe even avoiding, the issue of affordable housing. Funny, considering the GOP candidate is a real estate magnate.

Republican presidential candidate and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie noted that there needs to be a “new direction” in federal housing policy, and “I’ve seen the effect that housing has had in my state, or that lack of housing has had in my state, and I think we need to fix it.” But when asked why housing is not a big issue in the campaign, Christie said it is “not the sexiest issue in the world” and that the topic of affordable housing “kind of depresses people.”

Speaker Paul Ryan (R) gave a speech this spring in which he “challenged” members of his party “to do more” to take on issues related to poverty, including housing.

I’m not impressed with the facts, though. Two out of three policy changes Ryan suggests seem less than generous, and the third seems neutral at best.

Mr. Ryan led a House Republican Task Force on Poverty, Opportunity, and Upward Mobility to develop an anti-poverty plan that was released in June (see Memo, 6/13) to serve as a blueprint for reforming America’s welfare, workforce, and education programs, including affordable housing and community development programs. The plan focused on imposing work requirements on beneficiaries of federal housing assistance, demanding evidence-based outcomes, and providing states with more flexibility. NLIHC President and CEO Diane Yentel released a statement highlighting several concerns with the proposal, but welcomed a national conversation on solutions to end poverty.

Republicans decide to take poverty seriously and these are their priorities, giving states more autonomy and individuals less? Did they not get the memo about the results of welfare reform?

As FiveThirtyEight recently reported, those results have been mixed at best. One of the main takeaways is that poor people themselves get less money, though that too varies state by state. Liberal localities are more likely to be more hands-off and trust recipients to handle their business themselves.

California gives close to half of its total welfare dollars directly to low-income residents in the form of cash assistance. Georgia, by contrast, spends 80 percent of its funds on programs in the “other” category [including , and gives just 8 percent directly to families in cash. …
“[The other category] covers a broad range of uses, including child welfare, parenting training, substance abuse treatment, domestic violence services and early education.” Those programs might be worthwhile in their own right, but they don’t have much to do with the original goals of welfare.

It’s kind of ironic that Republicans emphasize liberty, small government, and self-determination as a party, and yet red states become nanny states, and tell their citizens, essentially, “We know what’s best for you, we’ll handle the funds because you can’t be trusted with them,” when it comes to the poor.

Still, #NotAllRepublicans! Remember Albuquerque’s GOP mayor who made it a priority to get homeless people working again?

The program has been a real success. It feels very WPA-ish: the city hires anyone who’s willing to work to pull weeds and do basic maintenance jobs. PBS’s Kathleen McCleery reports, “They work hard for five hours. Some come back week after week. The pay is $9 an hour, $1.50 more than the minimum wage. … Plus they get lunch.”

The participants are happy too:

DAVID GONZALEZ, Program Participant: Instead of going to the mission, at least you go to go to Burger King and McDonald’s, and you go back to the room and you sleep nice and comfortable instead of sleeping on the cardboard.
JESSICA SALAZAR, Program Participant: I got to put some money in my pocket. I helped clean up the community, and it’s a good feeling.
ROBERT GAUFELDE, Program Participant: Here at least I got a good day’s worth of work in. I don’t feel bad because, I mean, I honestly worked and earned my wages.

Likewise, in Salt Lake City, Utah, the red, beating heart of a blood-red state, Republicans have managed to reduce chronic homelessness by 91% by implementing a program called “Housing First.”

Part of what helps is removing one’s ideological blinders. That’s what helped Lloyd Pendelton, who now runs the successful anti-homelessness task force.

He says as a conservative, he didn’t think the government should simply give people a place to live.
“Because I was raised as a cowboy in the west desert,” Pendleton says, “and I have said over the years, ‘You lazy bums, get a job, pull yourself up by the bootstraps.’” Then in 2003, Lloyd Pendleton went to a conference on homelessness in Chicago.
At that conference, a founder of the Housing First philosophy, Sam Tsemberis, told him that chronically homeless people cost the government a lot of money when they’re living on the street, because of services like emergency room visits and jail time.
HUD estimates that annual cost as between $30,000 and $50,000 per person. Housing them simply costs a lot less.

Logic and humanity are non-partisan. So is realizing that a cost-effective, and actually effective, solution is a good solution, regardless of whether it could seem like liberal propaganda or conservative claptrap. Blue team, red team, who cares? As long as elected officials are interested in alleviating the problems associated with poverty, they can make a real difference.