Poverty of Ideas

, Bethany Stotts, Leave a comment

President Obama recently outlined four areas he would like the new White House Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships to focus on: poverty, fatherhood, abortion reduction, and interfaith dialogue.

And a new, bipartisan antipoverty task force, The Poverty Forum, may just have the President’s ear on the first issue.

The Poverty Forum has developed 25 proposals which were developed by pairing together nine liberal and nine conservative poverty experts. “We believe the current economic crisis provides an unprecedented opportunity to make poverty reduction a serious national priority,” said Adam Taylor, the senior political director at Sojourners, an organization run by Reverend Jim Wallis.

“After the teams came up with their policy recommendations they were then vetted by the whole group and while the whole group has not endorsed every single proposal they believe that the proposal as a whole is critical to offer up for public policy debate and to suggest directly to the new Administration and to Congress,” he later said.

Rev. Wallis co-chaired the project with Mike Gerson, a senior fellow of the Council on Foreign Relations. Rev. Wallis said at the February 17 press conference that “the Obama administration has already asked for a meeting about these proposals later on this week.”

However, the Reverend’s interpretation of the recently-reauthorized State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) might raise some eyebrows. “Well, there’s a broad support here for SCHIP, the idea of health insurance for kids, which has been a very big issue for a lot of us and the unborn child regulation here actually helps you to cover sometimes women who are undocumented,” he said. “So this is an expanding coverage here, women who are with child.” Wallis said that he thought that since covering these pregnant women, including illegal immigrants, could reduce the incidence of abortion in the U.S., “this is again a common ground proposal that can garner support across the spectrum.”

Rev. Wallis was responding to a question by ABC News’ Teddy Davis, who asked about “three of the more contentious proposals” including the SCHIP unborn child provision and “what the liberal concern might be and how he thinks it can be overcome;” Davis also asked Gerson if restoring voting rights to convicted felons or raising the minimum wage would be policy suggestions which trouble conservatives.

Later, Reverend Wallis returned once again to defend expanding SCHIP coverage, calling it “an example of the principle of what we’re invoking here about what works.”

He continued,

“The reason this is included is to actually help expand health care to pregnant women and their children… 2 states have already chosen this option. We want, we’re just saying let’s keep it in place as an option for states. If it increases health care coverage for women and their kids, pregnant women and their unborn children, this is a good thing. So we didn’t start this to get into a debate about abortion or the legalities or all the rest. This is about what really benefits low-income people, families, their kids and so that’s why this is there and I think we can have those other discussions elsewhere but this is something [that] really works to provide more health care for people who aren’t getting it and that’s our priority here.”

A 2007 analysis by the Heritage Foundation found that as formulated SCHIP contributes to the “crowding out” of private health insurance and thereby “substantially increases the cost of covering uninsured children.” Paul L. Winfree and Greg D’Angelo, analysts at Heritage, found that the 2007 SCHIP reauthorization legislation, which was vetoed by President Bush, would “cover as many as 2.4 million newly eligible children” but, in the end, “the ranks of the uninsured would decrease by only 1 million.”

“This is because, for every 100 newly eligible children in families with incomes between 200 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level (FPL), 54 to 60 children would lose the private coverage that they have today,” they wrote.

The Children’s Health Insurance Program Reauthorization Act of 2009 (CHIPRA), which was signed into law on February 4, extends coverage to an additional 4.1 million children and will cost taxpayers an additional $32.8 billion, according to Georgetown University’s Health Policy Institute (GUHPI). However, given the effects of crowd out, the new program will not necessarily decrease the ranks of the uninsured by 4.1 million.

However, under the new law, states choosing to cover children from families earning above 300% of the federal poverty level will be reimbursed at a lower rate.

So how does the law cover “undocumented,” or illegal immigrants, as Rev. Wallis suggests? It technically doesn’t. According the National Association of State Medicaid Directors (NASMD), Section 605 of the new SCHIP law “Reasserts that no federal funding under titles XI, XIX or XXI may be used to provide services to illegal aliens.”

The text of Section 605 of the law reads, “Nothing in this Act allows Federal payment for individuals who are not legal residents” and Section 214 provides states the option to extend coverage to “lawfully residing immigrant children or pregnant women.”

Given that Rev. Wallis and another Poverty Forum expert, Melissa Rogers, Director of the Wake Forest University School of Divinity Center for Religion and Public Affairs, are on the 25 member Council assigned to the President’s new White House Office, they might want to get these details ironed out.

But then again, Reverend Wallis’ comments may reflect more mainstream consensus than the opinions espoused by others on the Council. As the Weekly Standard’s Meghan Clyne notes, another preacher appointed to the Council, Reverend Dr. Otis Moss Jr. has “publicly defended Reverend [Jeremiah] Wright and compared his preaching to that of Amos, Micah, Malachi, and John the Baptist” and this month gave a 40-minute tribute sermon to Reverend Wright while preaching from Trinity’s pulpit.

Bethany Stotts is a staff writer at Accuracy in Academia.