In President Donald Trump’s early blueprint for his $4.1 billion 2018 budget, Medicaid and SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that replaced food stamps, face deep cuts.
While his proposal is just that, and can change much before Congress has its say, we took a look at what drastic cuts to those two entitlement programs might mean for the area.
Medicaid is the single largest American insurance provider, and covers 20 percent of the population, from low-income children and families to pregnant women, the elderly and the disabled. According to the Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, 31,260 people in Kankakee County (population 111,375) received Medicaid benefits in the 2016 fiscal year, an increase of 14 percent since 2012. Of those, 13,805 were children.
In Iroquois County (population 28,879), enrollment increased by 23 percent to 6,884 people, 3,117 of whom were children. Throughout the next 10 years, the Congressional Budget Office estimates 14 million Medicaid recipients will be uninsured under the proposed cuts.
“I think one of the improvements we’ve seen since Medicaid was expanded is the people we had seen in the past not have health care coverage, they suddenly had coverage. They could see a doctor and get medical treatment for the things wrong with them, take medications and try to improve their health situations,” said Sarah Neill, community services director for Catholic Charities in Kankakee.
“We’re always worried about cuts, but these are definitely different than what we’ve seen. Recently, they’re definitely more extreme,” Neill added. “That compounded with the other cuts they’re debating, if all those cuts happen it’s going to be tremendously devastating.
The budget assumes the American Health Care Act of 2017 will pass the Senate, leading to a $834 billion dollar decrease in federal Medicaid spending and erasing Obama-era Medicaid expansions. The budget mentions cuts to Medicaid, but it’s unclear if those are part of the Obamacare repeal and replace or additional cuts.
The Illinois Public Health Association sent an open letter to Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth asking them to reject the AHCA and the accompanying cuts to Medicaid. According to the IPHA, 1.2 million Illinois residents stand to lose coverage.
“By eliminating the positive benefits of the Affordable Care Act, our communities will regress to a ‘sick-care’ system that focused on treating disability and disease rather than preventing it,” wrote IPHA Executive Director Tom Hughes.
Deborah Dodt is the director of Asbury Community Outreach Ministries, Inc., and works with low-income and homeless clients in Kankakee. Medicaid expansion was life-changing for some of her clients, who now might lose coverage, she said.
“People are going to be reluctant to go for health care but when they do it’s going to be in an emergency room,” she said. “It’s going to cost the community to try to take care of people, and people will not get the care they need, not because the community doesn’t care, but because they don’t have a payment source.”
“It’s a tragedy that our budget crisis at the state level and the national changes to health care that are being proposed are making it hard for those who need help,” said Marcos Barajas, founder and executive director of the free Hippocrates Medical Clinic in Kankakee, “but I think our community can handle that to work together and make things better for everybody.”
With the addition of two new medical volunteers, Barajas said he thinks his clinic could handle double the number of patients, though patients will have to schedule appointments ahead of time instead of walking in.
Cuts to the Department of Agriculture also could have a big impact because the department is in charge of SNAP. In the 2nd Congressional District, which includes parts of Cook County and Will County and all of Kankakee County, more than 22 percent of households receive SNAP benefits. Of those households, more than half have children, and the majority have at least one adult who has worked in the past year. The new budget calls for $193 billion in cuts throughout the next 10 years, for a budget reduction of 25 percent.
“SNAP cuts are even worse,” said Dodt. “We do have a nice set of food pantries in this county because we’ve had the need, and we’ve had the need even at the current level of food stamps. It’s going to get worse. … People want to work, they want to do what they need to do to take care of their families without having to come and ask for help, It’s going to be a tough time for people. Hopefully there’s going to be sufficient resources to feed people.”
The average SNAP household takes in slightly more than $250 per month in benefits, meaning cuts could put a significant dent in the budgets of low-income families.
“One thing is cut and it impacts something else, which impacts something else. To try to predict how far-reaching those impacts would be is hard, but it does. If somebody loses SNAP benefits it’s going to affect their budget,” said Neill. “They’re not going to be able to buy as much food if they have to take money from rent or utilities to make up the difference.”