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Don’t Call Build Back Better a “Social Safety Net Bill”
John K. Roman, a senior NORC researcher at the University of Chicago in the Economics, Justice and Society group, does not want President Biden’s Build Back Better bill to be called a “social safety net” because the term does not capture the reality of what the proposals would do for Americans. Instead, he says it is about investments in people and there is evidence to back it up. The following is his argumentation to the point posted on twitter…
“This week or next, the House will likely vote on the $ 1.7 trillion reconciliation bill that is starting to be labeled a ‘social safety net’ bill. I want to advocate here FOR the bill, but strongly AGAINST the term social safety net. This moniker is a huge problem.
“The programs in the $ 1.7 trillion reconciliation bill are, in large part, evidence-based prevention programs. They are not bandages of last resort to stop the bleeding, which a safety net implies. They are investments in people and opportunities. This is how we should describe them.
“A little history comes to light. President Reagan coined the term “social safety net” in 1981, when he made a very nuanced argument for the safety net, “All those who really need it can rest assured that the social safety net of the programs on which they depend is free of any cuts.”
“Big caveat though. While Reagan was against the removal of programs that are not means tested (Social Security, Medicare and Veterans Benefits) means-tested poverty reduction programs (Medicaid, AFDC) were a fair game.
“And over time, the meaning of the ‘social safety net’ has split in that direction. Social security, health insurance and VA benefits are no longer really seen as safety nets – there are de facto rights. Poverty alleviation programs, however, are a fair game for political attacks.
“And that’s a big deal. The new investments proposed in the reconciliation bill do not build on the very popular elements of safety nets as rights, but rather on under-invested elements of means-tested political football. It’s no surprise that this is political football.
“Another problem is that the ‘social safety net’ involves catching up with you when you fall. But of course, a lot of people don’t fall into the safety net, they were born there and live there. Climbing on a net is a difficult task, getting out of a net is a whole new level of challenge.
“The final problem with the term ‘social safety net’ is that it implies a solution. No one is saying that problems shouldn’t be solved when they arise. But every corrective is at least a tacit admission of political failure– recognition that a problem has not been avoided before it begins.
“So what do I think the message should be for the $ 1.7 trillion reconciliation bill? Call these programs what they are: Big Bets on the American People! Big bets based on data and evidence that investing in the American people will pay big dividends.
‘Let’s look at the programs very quickly and see how they prevent problems rather than applying a bandage. Improving access to high-quality child care, paid family leave and medical leave can reduce fatal injuries to children.
“Improving access to quality child care helps two generations: it reduces child abuse and increases the ability of parents to work and increases their income.
“Improved access to better infant nutrition programs and routine preventive health care reduce child mortality and improve children’s outcomes throughout their lives.
‘And finally, the poor child tax credit is as close to a silver bullet as there is in the political arsenal. It reduces dropout, delinquency and teenage pregnancy and improves educational outcomes, future employment, and physical and mental health.