Asked and Answered: Five State of the Union Questions
Before President Trump addressed the nation on the State of the Union, we shared five questions about important issues. So here are the answers, plus a little more about what he said.
Will President Trump call for an increase in the federal minimum wage?
It’s been stuck at $7.25 for the past 10 years. Gradually raising it to $15 an hour by 2024 would raise wages by $144 billion for more than 41 million workers, directly or indirectly. That’s a lot less than the $275 billion in corporate tax cuts in the year after the Trump tax cut passed, but it would be a big help. While the President cited the reduction in unemployment, he failed to note that median usual weekly real earnings dropped by 1.6 percent for whites and by 2.5 percent for African American workers between January 2017 and April 18, and Hispanic workers gained a fraction (0.4) of a percent.
Will the President announce help to prevent hunger in Puerto Rico?
In the aftermath of Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, there was, as in every other disaster-struck area, an increased need for food assistance. States have access to Disaster SNAP benefits that help them cope with such increased relief. Puerto Rico does not. It receives a flat amount for its Nutrition Assistance Program, which was increased on a temporary basis after the hurricanes devastated Puerto Rico. It wasn’t enough; by the end of March, there will not be enough cover those in need; 1.4 million people will lose some or all of their food assistance. There is a proposal that passed the House but not yet the Senate to provide $600 million to provide the extra nutrition aid needed for the rest of the year. The President has explicitly opposed this; just as his Administration has held up Community Development Block Grant funds for rebuilding in Puerto Rico that Congress approved. In the first nine days after Hurricanes Harvey and Irma hit Texas and Florida, FEMA distributed about $100 million to those affected; in the same period after Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico, only $6 million had been distributed, according to a new study. Will the President change his mind in the face of the need, or were those rolls of paper towels his major contribution? So far, it’s still just the paper towels. Congress can and must do something about this – see Nicolai Haddal’s blog post today.
Will the President explain why his Administration is approving state actions to deny Medicaid to people struggling to work, even when a court has ruled against such moves?
The President applauded the elimination of the individual mandate penalty in the Affordable Care Act, which will mean more healthy Americans will not sign up for insurance, making it more expensive to insure the sicker population that will still sign up. He talked about lowering prescription drug prices, and that may be an area where there can be bipartisan agreement. But unsurprisingly, he did not mention the rise in the number of uninsured people last year to 13.7 percent, the highest rate since the first quarter of 2014, according to a new Gallup Poll. In addition to many actions to thwart enrollment in marketplace health insurance, the Trump Administration has encouraged states to set up work reporting requirements for Medicaid. In Arkansas, people are required to report monthly online, whether or not they have access to the internet. Since June 2018, 17,000 Arkansans lost their Medicaid coverage. Many worked but could not maintain the required hours; many others just could not comply with the reporting requirement. If all states implement work reporting for Medicaid, 1.4 million – 4 million will lose their medical care. A federal District Court ruled against similar work reporting in Kentucky, but the Trump Administration re-approved a very similar version of the program.
Will the President explain why the tax cut law he signed did not in fact result in bonuses or wage increases for the vast majority of workers, but did trigger massive corporate stock buybacks?
The President touted economic growth statistics but left out how unevenly the growth is being shared. Corporations and people at the top are doing very well. U.S. corporations have announced $853 billion in share repurchases in 2018, according to Americans for Tax Fairness. That’s over 120 times more than the $7.1 billion corporations have given their workers in bonuses or pay increases due to the tax law. The stock buybacks increase the value of the stock, to the considerable advantage of shareholders. It is true that the most recent data show some increase in ordinary people’s wages, but, as noted above, those wages have been stagnating even during the last year’s overall growth.
Will President Trump commit to never again shutting down the government, in order to avoid hardship for people receiving housing and food assistance, federal workers, and contract workers?
President Trump celebrated many different people during his speech, but he did not recognize federal workers and those who work under contract at federal facilities, or acknowledge the harm they suffered during the shutdown. The President’s intransigence over the border wall led to 800,000 federal workers going without pay for 35 days, causing hardship for many. Maintenance and cafeteria staff working under contract in federal facilities may never regain the pay they lost. Many SNAP/food stamp households will have to wait about 50 days to receive their next SNAP installment, above the 40-day legal limit, meaning families will be running out of food. (See David Elliot’s blog post this week.) Contracts with landlords for affordable housing units with over 1,000 tenants were allowed to expire before the government shutdown, leaving their continued rent subsidy in question. Will the President announce he will never again force vulnerable people to be hostages in a funding dispute? Well, he certainly didn’t, but at least he did not use apocalyptic language to threaten a further shutdown over the wall. Right now, Congress is negotiating another deal to prevent a shutdown, and there are reports of some progress. We’ll see soon.
Did the President continue to demonize immigrants and call for more wall?
He highlighted crimes by immigrants although the overall statistics show less crime by immigrants than among the native-born. He talked about the drug traffic, which is carried out largely through ports of legal entry or underground tunnels, and therefore will not be affected by barrier construction. He wants to detain more immigrants, including unaccompanied children, and to gut limitations on detention now in force because of court decisions. This was a big part of his speech. You can find fact checking details in the Washington Post and elsewhere; regrettably, the President repeats lies to identify immigrants as dangerous threats. The more he can emphasize that, the less he feels he has to say about the real issues facing us.
He talked briefly about rebuilding infrastructure and about an initiative to wipe out HIV/AIDS. We’re for that. On infrastructure, the President’s previous plans have emphasized big tax breaks for businesses, which seem unlikely to put resources into aging roads, bridges, and public buildings. On HIV/AIDS, his previous budgets have called for cuts. A reversal of that stance would be most welcome.
The nation needs a real agenda to solve its actual problems. The State of the Union was not it. We need to provide affordable and quality health care to all our people, and must protect and expand Medicaid, since it is responsible for much of the expanded insurance coverage we’ve had and is the major source of treatment for the opioid use crisis. We need to help parents juggle the responsibilities of raising their children and working, and help families care for aging relatives. We need more jobs with decent pay and benefits, and lifelong education to prepare people for those jobs. We need to protect our people from predatory lenders, environmental and climate hazards, and other public health emergencies. We need rebuilding and renewal, including internet access in rural America. We can afford to do this if we adopt fair and adequate tax policies. It was a very long speech, but the President did not have much to say about our real problems.