Susan J. Demas: Under Rick Snyder, poor people were always guilty before being proven innocent

Protestors carry signs as they demonstrate against proposed cuts to Medical and Medicare outside San Francisco city hall on September 21, 2011 in San Francisco, California. | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

Thousands of low-income Michiganders will soon be subjected to needlessly cruel new rules just so they can get basic health care.

Michigan’s Medicaid work requirements kick in on Jan. 1, courtesy of the last GOP-controlled Legislature. (The current GOP-led body has shown zero interest in pausing them, despite pleading from the current Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer administration, even though other states have).

The legislation was signed by Republican former Gov. Rick Snyder, who lazy pundits called a moderate, but whose governing philosophy really was that rich corporations got carte blanche, while poor people were always guilty before being proven innocent.

It’s most striking to note that expanding Medicaid to roughly 650,000 Michiganders and improving their health, as allowed under former President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act (ACA), was one of Snyder’s finest (and necessarily bipartisan) achievements.

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It was always rather clear that the Republican didn’t support the policy out of altruism (that’s for suckers) but because of the tantalizing boost in federal dollars to the state. And after Snyder’s first move was to cut taxes for businesses to the tune of $2 billion annually, money was a bit tight.

But in his last year in office, Snyder decided to undo another part of his legacy by signing the work requirements, knowing he wouldn’t be around to see the damage. (He also abandoned his fight for immigrants amid the President Trump administration’s relentless, racist attacks). 

We already know from research into Arkansas’ legislation that the rules won’t lower the unemployment rate, but will succeed in thousands losing health coverage.

But the important thing is that Republicans don’t care.

Study: Medicaid work requirements failed to increase employment rate

This wasn’t a one-off from Snyder, by the way. The ongoing legal action over the state’s Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA) system as Exhibit A in his antipathy for the underclass. As a former Gateway CEO, Snyder fashioned himself as a tech genius who would overhaul the state’s outdated computer systems and save us a bundle by eliminating “inefficiencies.”

In reality, the new UIA system falsely identified fraud in thousands of cases. People lost their jobs, their marriages and their dignity. One of my closest friends, the late radio host Tony Trupiano, never recovered after being falsely accused by the state. But under Snyder, the state fought people who were already suffering every step of the way. Because the impulse for his administration was to believe the worst in regular people.

That was just the tip of the iceberg. Snyder also signed laws cutting unemployment benefits, capping welfare benefits, imposing stricter financial rules when claiming benefits, requiring drug-testing for welfare recipients, doing an end-run around 2018 citizen initiatives increasing the minimum wage and requiring paid sick leave and more.

There’s scant proof that this ever delivered any results besides making people’s lives more miserable. 

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And of course, there were the two versions of the emergency manager law (one undemocratically passed in 2012 just six weeks after voters dumped it), which allowed the state to take over hollowed-out cities with large populations of color and make disastrous decisions, like switching Flint’s water system.

It all goes back to the idea that poor people weren’t to be trusted during Rick Snyder’s reign.

Contrast this to the Republican’s policies for corporations. After the initial $2 billion tax giveaway (no questions asked), Snyder signed laws like personal property tax cuts for businesses, deregulation bonanzas, special tax breaks for companies like Switch and, of course, Right to Work.

What big business wanted, big business got under Snyder. No drug tests or asset tests required.

New: Whitmer, DHHS announce plan to ease access to public assistance

Whitmer has taken a decidedly different approach, like in her latest policy shift lifting some onerous requirements on people seeking food assistance, cash assistance and state emergency relief.

Naturally, Republicans are deeply worried about fraud, even as they’re eager to give away even more to Switch and other data centers with a new tax incentive package. Of course, there’s no evidence that fraud is a significant problem.

There’s also no reason to indulge the lobbyists, business interests and Republican officials (who were huge Snyder fans) and now claim to be super-concerned about budget cuts. It’s weird how it’s only those Whitmer made to charter schools, rural areas or pet programs, but anything the GOP Legislature did in its budget is cool because those cuts hurt the right people. 

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Republicans made this state a meaner place during eight years of total rule. Most of them voted for Trump, whose administration is a corrupt dumpster fire that puts migrant children in cages, and will gladly do so again.

It will take a long time to undo all this damage and I’m not really sure it’s possible. But one thing we can do in the short-term is call out self-serving and disingenuous critiques from those quite comfortable with cruelty toward the least among us. 

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Susan J. Demas is an 18-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQs, the state budget, the economy and more. Most recently, she served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 80 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 3,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 60 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two teenagers along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.