Michigan’s Proposed Medicaid Work Requirement Is Blatantly Racist

Michigan Republicans want the recipients of Medicaid to work to qualify for benefits - unless they are white and live in a rural area.

The Republicans in Michigan appear to have put a racist twist on a health care program that had already become so hard for vulnerable Americans to access all thanks to the Trump administration. 

Republican state Sen. Mike Shirkey wrote legislation that would require recipients of Medicaid program, which helps people with limited income with their medical costs, in African-American majority cities to work in order to keep their health benefits.

However, state’s rural white residents will be exempted from this particular requirement.

Not too long ago, the Trump administration imposed work or job training requirements on people as a condition for obtaining health insurance under the Medicaid program. Apparently, lawmakers in Michigan are further narrowing down the commander-in-chief’s stringent conditions for the underprivileged Americans.

According to an analysis by the Center for Michigan, under the proposed bill, recipients of the benefits in 17 mostly white counties (all represented by Republican senators) would be exempt from the work requirements. The unemployment rate in these municipalities is at least 8.5 percent.

On the other hand, residents who live in counties with similar unemployment rates, including Detroit and Flint, would have to work at least 29 hours to be eligible for similar benefits. Unsurprisingly, such areas have a majority of black residents.

The contentious bill drew widespread scrutiny from legal experts, but apparently the lawmakers didn’t find anything wrong with what seems to be a blatant example of preferential treatment.

“We were just trying to be helpful,” Michigan Chamber lobbyist Wendy Block told the HuffPost. “It was really just a simple suggestion, not one that we’re married to.”

A member of the House committee, Rep. Yousef Rabhi (D-Ann Arbor), went over the bill and pointed out how the discriminatory exemption provision is an indicative of underlying racist sentiment of Republicans.

“That racist aspect is so clearly reflected in this proposal,” he said. “It’s OK that I have Medicaid as a rural, white person, but it's not OK that people in Detroit have Medicaid, or that people in Flint have Medicaid because 'they're lazy,' because 'they just abuse the system.'”

The advocates of the bill argue the idea is to stimulate the economy by incentivizing people to work, instead of letting people simply receive the benefits of the program. But Rabhi pointed out the flaw with that logic.

“If this is helping to stimulate our economy and to create jobs, then why is it [that some lawmakers] don't want their counties to have this great, wonderful program?” he said. “[By that logic] shouldn’t the worst-off places be the ones that benefit most?”

Even two professors from the University of Michigan came forward to decry the proposal as they believe it a violation of Title VI under the Civil Rights Act, which prohibits recipients of federal funds from employing "methods of administration that appear neutral but have a discriminatory effect on individuals because of their race."

Moreover, the proposition, which has passed the state Senate, would make about 20 percent of Medicaid recipients lose their insurance. 

According to New York magazine, most recipients of welfare are either already working or unable to work. Under the proposed bill, the process to obtain the benefits of the program would just get harder for them as they would have to prove they qualify for an exemption.

Banner Image Credits: REUTERS/Laszlo Balogh

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