PBS NewsHour examined America’s safety net. It found holes. 


April 12, 2024

As we mark Care Workers Recognition Month, advocates, political leaders, and the media are becoming more aware of the importance of building a care economy. Recently, PBS NewsHour embarked upon a five-part series entitled “America’s Safety Net.” 

The powerful series (you can find all five parts here) touched upon many of the issues we consider to be part of care infrastructure – Medicaid, Medicare, ACA, affordable housing, and the once-expanded Child Tax Credit, just to name a few. 

In case you missed the series, we are summarizing it below, with links to all five stories. 

Exploring America’s social safety net and the political fights around it
“The year was 1935. The U.S. was still struggling through the Great Depression. A quarter of the population was just unemployed, a level the country hadn’t seen before and hasn’t seen since. That August, as part of his New Deal, President Franklin Roosevelt signed the Social Security Act into law.” 

The opening episode of the PBS NewsHour series examines how Roosevelt’s New Deal, President Lyndon B. Johnson’s War on Poverty, which led to the creation of Medicare, Medicaid, and SNAP, and, more recently, President Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which helps millions of Americans access health care, helped form the background of our country’s current safety net. 

But the series also reports this truth: 

“Still, despite welfare’s reach, almost half of American households struggle to make ends meet. And the number is even higher among Black and brown households.” 

You can watch (or read the transcript) of the opening story in the series here. 

How a complicated benefits system lets some fall through the safety net
The second story in the America’s Safety Net series looks at how difficult it can be to access (and keep receiving) benefits even if one qualifies for them, due to bureaucratic hurdles. 

PBS NewsHour quoted Code for America’s Aurelle Amran: 

“There’s $80 billion left on the table every single year because of how hard it is to navigate these hurdles,” she said. “It’s about layers and layers of accumulated policy and regulations. We’re very good at adding things and very bad at taking away regulations and requirements.” 

You can watch the story here 

Federal housing assistance shrinks as rental prices, homelessness reach historic highs 

PBS NewsHour reports that unlike many social safety net programs that continue to grow, federal housing assistance has shrunk to its lowest level in 25 years – so much so that today, only one in four households that are eligible for federal assistance actually receive it.  

One problem, PBS NewsHour reports, is that in some states, such as Texas, landlords are legally allowed to discriminate against people who receive Section 8 housing assistance. 

Ann Lott runs the Inclusive Communities Project, a Texas nonprofit that assists people who receive housing choice vouchers. She said 93 percent of landlords in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex will not accept such vouchers. 

“Approximately 85 percent of the families that we serve…on the voucher program are African American,” Lott told PBS NewsHour. “But unfortunately, what we found is that, even with the voucher, the only areas that would accept Section 8 would be those high-minority, high-poverty areas.” 

You can watch the story here. 

Families slip back into poverty after pandemic-era child tax credit expires
PBS NewsHour detailed how Congress — “dramatically, but temporarily” — expanded the social safety net during the pandemic, including a significant expansion of the Child Tax Credit. Unfortunately, the CTC expansion was for 2021 only – it expired at the end of that year. 

In 2021, PBS NewsHour reported, the national child poverty rate dropped to its lowest level on record, 5.2 percent, down from almost 10 percent in 2020. What’s more, the poverty gap between White children and children of color also closed dramatically. The Census Bureau estimated that the expanded CTC lifted more than two million children out of poverty. 

“I think, in a policy sense, that’s a resounding success,” Bradley Hardy, a Georgetown University Public Policy Professor, told PBS NewsHour. “We had a highly salient and disturbing public health crisis that actually provided some clarity for policymakers to plug holes in the nation’s social safety net that were already in existence.” 

PBS NewsHour reported that research from Hardy and his colleagues found that the CTC expansion had the greatest impact in states with low costs of living and high poverty rates. In Louisiana, for example, an estimated 94 percent of children benefited from the expansion, and the state saw a 56 percent decline in child poverty. 

One Louisiana resident who definitely was affected by the CTC was Dafnee Chatman whose hometown, Ville Platte, has a poverty rate of more than 40 percent and has been called the state’s poorest town. The mother of four kids, Dafnee worked at a community college before she lost her job during the pandemic.  

“The best way I can explain it is that I felt like someone took my air,” Dafnee said of losing her job. Asked how she provided for her family, she said, “You don’t. You’re choosing between making sure you have lights or making sure you have food. You’re robbing Peter to pay Paul. And, eventually, Paul runs out and Peter, so you’re left with nothing.” 

Now, with the CTC expansion no longer in effect, Dafnee says, “Some days are better than others, but it can be pretty, pretty overwhelming.” 

With the expansion no longer in effect, child poverty is on the rise. You can watch the story here. 

What’s at stake for Americans at risk of losing Medicaid as unwinding continues
PBS NewsHour reports on how Congress increased Medicaid funding during the pandemic and prohibited states from removing people from the Medicaid rolls. But that time is past – states are now redetermining recipients’ eligibility and more than 11 million have lost Medicaid coverage – including more than 4.5 million children. Some of those who lost coverage were no longer eligible but millions were denied coverage due to bureaucratic reasons, such as missing paperwork. 

One person who worried about losing Medicaid – but ultimately didn’t — is Marrow Woods, a college student who has a rare, inflammatory skin condition called hidradenitis suppurative, which causes painful cysts on one’s body. 

According to PBS NewsHour, Marrow takes experimental medications and goes to an Atlanta hospital every month for infusions of a drug to reduce inflammation. “There are definitely concerns about my ability to, like, hold a job if I don’t have the proper accommodations, or just kind of figuring out a life as a 21-year-old with a chronic illness,” Marrow says.  

Can Marrow imagine life without Medicaid? 

“Absolutely not. That has been the one thing, like, getting me through this entire process. Without Medicaid, I wouldn’t be able to receive this medication.” 

“In our health care system, having coverage is the price of admission. And you’re just not going to see a good show in our health care system if you’re uninsured.” Joan Alker, Executive Director of Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families, told PBS NewsHour.  

You can watch the story here. 

What to know about Georgia’s controversial approach to expanding Medicaid
PBS NewsHour reports that Georgia is one of ten states that has not taken advantage of the Affordable Care Act to expand Medicaid so that adults earning less than 138 percent of the federal poverty line, or about $20,000 a year for an individual, can access it. However, Georgia did pass a program called Pathways to Coverage.  

The program provides Medicaid coverage to adults who earn less than 100 percent of the federal poverty line, or about $15,000 a year for an individual. But there’s a catch: Recipients must spend at least 80 hours a month either working, going to school, participating in job training, or doing volunteer service. 

Georgia is the only state with a Medicaid work requirement in place, according to PBS NewsHour. State officials had estimated that 50,000 people would enroll in Pathways during its first two years. But since it launched last January, only about 3,500 have signed up. 

Sherry Beavers, Executive Director of the free Open Arms Clinic, which provides health care to the poor and uninsured, said some patients are not able to meet the work requirement. 

“The qualifications are just too steep,” she told PBS. “You know, I have patients that I have to put A on the pill bottles if they take them in the morning, and P on the pill bottles if they take them at night. And you expect these people to be able to upload documents and renew their health insurance monthly? It’s not going to work.” 

You can watch the story here. 


affordable housing
Expanded Child Tax Credit