Monday, February 27, 2017

Laurence M. Vance: Vouchers, thy name is welfare

  Elisabeth “Betsy” DeVos — whose father-in-law is a co-founder of Amway, the multilevel marketing company, and whose brother is the founder of the notorious mercenary firm Blackwater — was confirmed by the U.S. Senate a few weeks ago to be the eleventh secretary of Education. Because two Republican senators — Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski — sided with the Democrats and voted against her nomination, Vice President Mike Pence cast the tie-breaking vote to confirm her.

  Liberals and progressives are strongly to opposed to DeVos because she is a long-time big donor to the Republican Party and conservative organizations, a religious and social conservative who has spent heavily on Christian conservative causes, and especially because she is a strong proponent of charter schools and educational vouchers.

  Charter schools are publicly funded but privately operated schools. DeVos has said that she wants every family to have “educational choice,” which is code for government vouchers that allow parents to send their children to private or religious schools of their choice, at public expense.

  DeVos is said to have spent more than $2 million in 2000 on a failed school-vouchers referendum in Michigan.

  Donald Trump’s selection of DeVos to head the Department of Education has once again raised the issue of vouchers, especially since, on the campaign trail, he said that as president he would “be the nation’s biggest cheerleader for school choice.”

  But government vouchers are not unique to education. They have been used for housing for years and have been proposed for health care.

  According a U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) “Housing Choice Vouchers Fact Sheet,”

    The housing choice voucher program is the federal government’s major program for assisting very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled to afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market. Since housing assistance is provided on behalf of the family or individual, participants are able to find their own housing, including single-family homes, townhouses and apartments.

    The participant is free to choose any housing that meets the requirements of the program and is not limited to units located in subsidized housing projects.

    The housing choice voucher program places the choice of housing in the hands of the individual family.

  The vouchers are administered by local public housing agencies (PHAs), which receive federal funds from HUD to administer the voucher program. A housing subsidy is then paid directly to the landlord by the PHA on behalf of the participating family. The family then pays the difference between the actual rent and the amount of the voucher.

  For several years, House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) has proposed changing Medicare from a program that supplies a defined set of benefits where the government pays doctors and hospitals directly on the basis of the services they provide into a “premium support” model that offers subsidies for participants to purchase health insurance directly from insurance companies. Under Ryan’s most recent version of his plan, the elderly could also choose to use their subsidy to buy traditional Medicare. Seniors with low incomes would receive “greater support” and “those with greater medical needs” would “receive a higher payment”; that is, they would receive a larger voucher. Former Republican representative Tom Price of Georgia, now Trump’s head of the Department of Health and Human Services, was an advocate of Ryan’s Medicare voucher plan when he served as chairman of the House Budget Committee.

  The problem with vouchers is a simple one. They are a form of welfare. They might not be called welfare. They might not be considered welfare. But vouchers are welfare. They are welfare just like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), refundable tax credits such as the EITC, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly called food stamps).

  Before the government can issue a voucher to one American for education, housing, or health care, it must first take money from another American.

  Vouchers distort the market by artificially increasing demand and raising prices on the services for which they are used.

  Once government vouchers for education, housing, and health care are deemed to be acceptable, no reasonable or logical argument can be made against the government potentially providing vouchers for other services such as car repair, haircuts, transportation, dry cleaning, landscaping, or even entertainment, recreation, and vacations.

  Giving one group of Americans the choice of where to spend other Americans’ money to educate their children, live in a house, or receive health care is immoral and unjust.

  But vouchers are merely part of a greater problem, that of unnecessary actions and illegitimate functions of government. Education, housing, and health care must be completely separated from the state and provided by the free market without government oversight or funding.

  This is a simple thing to do on the federal level, since the Constitution nowhere authorizes the federal government to have anything whatsoever to do with providing, overseeing, or funding education, housing, or health care.

  As it relates to education, that means no grants, loans, loan guarantees, funding, subsidies, vouchers, school accreditation, regulations, requirements, standards, mandates, initiatives, or breakfast or lunch programs; and no Department of Education.

  As it relates to housing, it means no providing of mortgages, guaranteeing of mortgages, subsidies, regulations, mandates, vouchers, promotion of home ownership, attempts to stamp out discrimination in housing, regulation of the lending or housing market, or efforts to ensure that housing is affordable; no Office of Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity; and no Department of Housing and Urban Development.

  And as it relates to health care, it means no research grants, mandates, regulations, vouchers, subsidies, vaccination programs, funding of clinical trials, HIV/AIDS-prevention initiatives, restrictions on organ sales, FDA, National Institutes of Health, Obamacare, Medicaid, Medicare, or SCHIP; and no Department of Health and Human Services.

  Separating education, housing, and health care from government on the state level is more difficult because most state constitutions have provisions authorizing them or mandating that the state provide them. Yes, constitutions can be amended, legislation can be repealed, laws can be revised, and programs can be eliminated, but it is hearts and minds that must first be changed.

  Government vouchers for education, housing, and health care are not a step toward separating them from the state. They are welfare, pure and simple.

  About the author: Laurence M. Vance is a columnist and policy adviser for the Future of Freedom Foundation, an associated scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute, and a columnist, blogger, and book reviewer at He is also the author of Social Insecurity and The War on Drugs Is a War on Freedom. His newest books are War, Christianity, and the State: Essays on the Follies of Christian Militarism and War, Empire, and the Military: Essays on the Follies of War and U.S. Foreign Policy. Visit his website: Send him e-mail.

  This article was published by the Future of Freedom Foundation.

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