I-185 doesn’t fix flawed work training

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Montana’s economy is booming. Thousands of jobs are being created, wages are increasing and workers are in demand. The state’s unemployment rate of 3.6% is below the national rate.

Employers are scrambling to find employees. In this economic climate, there is little reason for an adult who can work to not be fully employed.

At the same time, the cost of Montana’s Medicaid Expansion program is nearly twice what was originally estimated.

More than 75 percent of the nearly 100,000 people in Montana’s Medicaid Expansion program are working-age adults – more than half don’t have children. If taxpayers are going to fund health care services for these Montanans, we need to increase accountability to better move participants into the workforce and off of public assistance.

Initiative 185 extends a flawed voluntary work program that was supposed to train enrollees for higher paying jobs to help them transition off of government assistance. Permanently expanding this as a voluntary program disables our overall goal to promote job training and economic growth for our underemployed workforce, and to provide a security net to the truly needy.

Other states have made work training, education or community service a condition of receiving Medicaid Expansion for able-bodied, working-age participants. Some states require enrollees to perform a minimum of 20 hours each week of work or community engagement such as GED programs or community college. The point is to move people from being dependent on a taxpayer-funded program to being self-reliant.

Montana does not have a mandatory work training program as part of Medicaid Expansion—ours is a voluntary program. Despite what the proponents of I-185 say, that voluntary program isn’t effective. Only 22 percent of Medicaid Expansion enrollees have signed up for the work program.

Rather than allowing the Legislature to evaluate all aspects of Medicaid Expansion and consider potential, and necessary reforms next year, I-185 bypasses the evaluations the Legislature originally planned when it passed the HELP Act in 2015 and locks the program in place, in perpetuity. The massive growth of Medicaid Expansion is something that should concern all Montanans. We should demand that our legislators address out-of-control spending and reform the state’s work training program before considering the need to continue Medicaid Expansion. This is especially appropriate given our improving job market demands.

If we are going to raise taxes to enroll even more people in a government assistance program, we owe it to the people enrolled in Medicaid Expansion to provide them the skills they need to find a job. We also owe it to taxpayers to move those who can work but choose not to, off of taxpayer assistance.

The authors of I-185 could have included work requirement reforms, but they did not. Instead, they decided to create an initiative that would lock in unsustainable spending with marginal accountability to taxpayers.

Vote NO on I-185 and allow our elected officials to do their jobs and responsibly review the Medicaid Expansion issue.

Becky Beard represents District 80 in the Montana House of Representatives.

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