Down and out in the USA
The United States’ trainwreck of a political machine has once again found itself at an impasse. Having failed to agree on a spending budget, the government has shut down, leaving only its essential services in operation and its poor out of luck.
While one of Congress’s primary duties is to pass spending bills, the problem this year is the Patient Protection and the Affordable Care Act, better known as the Affordable Care Act (ACA) or Obamacare.
Obamacare obligates anyone without health insurance to purchase insurance or face a significant tax penalty. The tax penalty, which begins as a relatively minor $95 per person per year or one per cent of household income, increases to $695 or 2.5 per cent of income, by 2016.
The Republicans who control the House of Representatives want to delay or repeal Obamacare and the Democrats who control the Senate won’t agree to any spending bill unless Obamacare is passed. Thus, political deadlock.
As a result, only the government operations that have been deemed essential will continue: air traffic controllers and hazardous waste handlers will remain at work; the postal service will continue; food stamps and Social Security payments will be handed out, and the military will stay on duty.
But an estimated 800,000 government employees will be furloughed, asked to stay home or leave work early. Agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Health and Safety Administration will be shut down, and national parks and zoos will be closed.
Should the shutdown continue for weeks like the one in 1994, the hardest hit will be the most vulnerable members of American society.
Veterans and their families might not receive unemployment and disability cheques, because the Office of Veterans’ Affairs has lost funding.
People in subsidized housing are at risk of eviction, as the Department of Housing and Urban Development will stop giving out vouchers to local housing authorities. limited number of people in subsidized housing will find themselves at risk of eviction.
Impoverished mothers of children under five will stop receiving vouchers for healthy food, breastfeeding support, and supplies, because will run out of funds after a few weeks as well.
Meanwhile, Congress and President Obama continue to get their paychecks.
The crisis’ affects would be mitigated if Obamacare promised a huge relief to the poor and struggling people most impacted by the shutdown. But it ends up punishing the poor for being poor.
Starting January 1, 2014, all Americans must have health insurance or pay a tax penalty. Some people will qualify for subsidies, but most won’t and will be required to pay out of pocket to private insurance companies.
Over 48 million Americans are uninsured, mostly because the cost of private health insurance is more than they can pay. The options under Obamacare are to buy health insurance or be fined for not being able to afford it.
Americans already pay more per capita in taxes for health care than Canada or any country that has state-funded health insurance, without actually getting any health insurance. Instead of using the tax funds already collected to create a health care system like Canada or the UK or Germany, the United States is taxing and penalizing Americans who don’t have private health coverage to buy private insurance.
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Obamacare launched October 1 despite the federal government’s shutdown and poor people can add to their long list of financial worries: ending housing subsidies, lack of veterans’ payments, and health insurance. God bless the United States of America.