When he was running for the state House, Mike Shirkey made a video of him woodworking. At the time, he was running to represent a downstate district in the state House. His pitch includes a desire that whenever a matter comes up for debate, part of the conversation is whether it does something to the people of Michigan, or for them.

Shirkey has since moved to the Senate. As to his pledge to insert into Lansings official dialogue whether pending legislation does something to the people of Michigan, or for them, we have an interesting answer.

Shirkey sponsored a bill that would pair Medicaid benefits to a 30-hour a week work requirement if you live in a county with an unemployment rate below 8.5 percent. Isabella Countys rate in February was 5.3 percent, so this would apply to the roughly 20 percent of people living in it who receive Medicaid.

Similar legislation in Kentucky reduced Medicaid rolls by about 15 percent, which if applied across the board would do something to about 2,000 people living in Isabella County. It would take away their health care. It is not hyperbolic to say that it would do something more to some, which is kill them. The causative relationship between access to health care and living is pretty straightforward.


What the bill doesnt do is anything for the people of Michigan. It will cost taxpayer more money to administer than it will save. But, thats not the point. The point of the bill is to give a firm nudge to people allegedly addicted to the teat of government into full-time employment. It exists to do something to people.

Lansings prevalent ideology right now, is to do things to people, but only the right ones. Right as in poor. Lansing adopted a pilot drug-testing program for welfare, which cost money and turned up exactly zero positive results (this has been the universal result, so this surprised no one). The governors office adopted strict means testing for food assistance (college students, who suffer an underappreciated level of food insecurity, were kicked off SNAP). And then there is Flint.

The programs do more than just put at risk access to the social safety net. They create the most formidable obstacle in projecting stigma. It sets the needy into two camps, those who deserve help and those who deserve to be kicked in the teeth until they correct themselves. It tells those deemed worthy that the other camp is so menacing that they have to submit to increasingly invasive inquiries, while those deemed unworthy are sent the message that society places such little value in them its okay if they go ahead and die already.

Were told that drawing these conclusions is bad form, because of course no one is that heartless. We can take at face value that no one intends to be that heartless, but the end result is the same. Thats especially true if youre the person whose health care is taken away because lawmakers just feel like you ought to have full-time work.

What this bill doesnt do is anything to help address poverty, which creates its own barriers to prosperity. Dont have any money, you dont own a car. You dont own a car, you cant get to work. And so on. Thats what gives lie to this being at its heart something more than just punishing the poor for their plight. If was really about moving people to the workforce, itd have provisions about transportation and affordable access to day care. It would do things for people rather than to them, and thus make it more than just another politicians broken promise.

Eric Baerren is a Morning Sun columnist. He can be reached at ebaerren@gmail.com or on Twitter at @ebaerren.

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Baerren: Medicaid bill just another politicians broken (heartless) promise