The House Republican Tax Plan: Lion’s Share of Tax Cut Given to Richest 1 Percent of Montana Households, Grows Over Time

Today the US House Ways and Means Committee will begin its work on the House Republican tax cut bill.

House leadership continues to tout this tax proposal as a plan to boost the middle class. Yet a closer look at the bill’s details reveals that it provides an increasing share of tax cuts for the nation’s – and Montana’s – richest households while also increasing the federal deficit by $1.5 trillion over the next decade.

The share of tax cuts to the wealthiest taxpayers in Montana will grow over time due to phase-ins of tax cuts that mostly benefit the rich. The plan also includes the eventual elimination or erosion of tax credits and deductions that benefit low- and middle-income taxpayers.

For example, after five years, the bill eliminates a $300 non-child dependent credit that benefits low- and middle-income families while fully repealing the estate tax that impacts less than 1% of very large estates.

The 10-year outlook for the plan reveals that by 2027, the share of tax cuts given to the wealthiest 1% of households in Montana would grow from 34 percent in 2018 to 49 percent by 2027, for an average yearly tax cut of $50,890.

Middle-income taxpayers’ average tax cut would erode from $600 from $200. In fact, by 2027, one in six Montanans with incomes between $36,000 and $57,000 would actually face a tax hike.

Average Tax Cuts to Top 1% of Montana Taxpayers Dwarf Those Going to All Other Income Groups

Tax Cuts for the Wealthiest Could Result in Deep Cuts to Critical Services for Montanans

Equally problematic to who is benefiting, this tax plan will also result in a massive increase to the federal deficit, that will likely put pressure on federal spending cuts down the line. This budget pressure would then hit our state budget when federal programs get slashed and costs get shifted to the state and local governments. In our state, we know from experience that tax cuts will lead to larger deficits — they will not pay for themselves over the next decade.

Already-struggling families, seniors, and people with disabilities would lose more from cuts to food assistance, health care, housing assistance, and workforce development and educational opportunities than they would gain from the tax cuts outlined in this House bill.

Amidst our current budget crisis, Montana cannot afford additional budget pressure as the result of federal cuts to programs that support low- and middle-income families. Federal funds are the largest funding source for Montana at $4.5 billion or 44.7 percent of the 2019 biennium budget. Our state cannot adequately serve the people of Montana if we see federal support for children, families, and seniors begin to erode as a result of this tax plan skewed heavily to the richest taxpayers.

Our Montana Congressional Delegation should not support any tax bill that is heavily weighted to help the wealthiest, does little to support working Montana families, and swells the budget deficit.

Open Enrollment & the Alexander-Murray Bill

Open Enrollment for 2018 begins tomorrow, November 1st, and this year the enrollment period is shorter — lasting for only six weeks—from November 1st until December 15th.

The Affordable Care Act has been the target of countless efforts of repeal and replace, as well as direct sabotage from the Trump administration. However, going into the 2018 Open Enrollment, the ACA is still in place.

The Alexander-Murray bill is currently the only plausible bipartisan market stabilization package to strengthen the ACA in Congress. The Congressional Budget Office found that Alexander-Murray would benefit both consumers and federal taxpayers by reducing individual market premiums beginning in 2019 and reduce deficits by $3.8 billion over ten years – while maintaining coverage rates.

The legislation would:

  • Guarantee cost-sharing reduction (CSR) payments to insurers through 2019;
  • Restore a significant portion of the Trump Administration’s cuts to ACA marketplace outreach and enrollment assistance;
  • Expand eligibility for so-called “catastrophic plans,” which are high-deductible plans that are subject to ACA rules and consumer protections but are currently available only to people under age 30; and
  • Simplify and alter some aspects of the ACA’s “Section 1332” waivers, which allow states to modify certain provisions of the ACA as long as the waivers cover as many people, provide coverage at least as affordable, provide coverage at least as comprehensive, and do not increase the federal deficit.

By guaranteeing payment of CSRs, the agreement would lower individual market premiums, prevent insurer exits, and save the federal government money – next year, and even more so in 2019.

By restoring funding for outreach, the agreement will help hundreds of thousands of people get coverage they need and help keep premiums low for all consumers, since outreach is especially important to encouraging healthy people to buy insurance.

While the Alexander-Murray proposal is not perfect, it is a step in the right direction. Most importantly, it signifies progress toward bipartisan action on health care, and away from damaging efforts to repeal the ACA, radically overhaul Medicaid, and take away coverage from millions of people.

We need swift, bipartisan Congressional action on this front in the passage of Alexander-Murray. The sooner this agreement is enacted into law, the more it will do to help consumers and strengthen markets in 2018.

During this enrollment period, call Senator Daines and Senator Tester, and ask them to reject calls from the White House, from Senator Hatch and Congressman Brady, and others to undermine the Alexander-Murray bill. We cannot risk the coverage of millions of Americans and destabilize the individual market with continued partisan health care games.

Alexander-Murray Bill: Stabilizing the health insurance market is key to affordable health care

Earlier this week, Senators Alexander and Murray announced an agreement on a bipartisan bill to stabilize the individual health insurance market. While the Alexander-Murray bill isn’t perfect, it marks an important first step toward bipartisan action on health care, and away from damaging efforts to repeal the ACA, radically overhaul Medicaid, and take away coverage from tens of thousands of Montanans.

Governor Bullock should be commended for supporting this bill and for laying the groundwork for the agreement through his work with governors of both parties. When the governors released their health care “blueprint” in August, they showed it is possible to reach bipartisan agreement on proposals that can strengthen the individual market and make coverage more affordable for consumers.

This bill would also directly benefit Montana’s consumers. By guaranteeing payment of CSRs, the agreement would lower individual market premiums, prevent insurer exits, and save the federal government money – next year, and even more so in 2019. By restoring funding for outreach, the agreement will help hundreds of thousands of people get coverage they need and help keep premiums low for all consumers, since outreach is especially important to encouraging healthy people to buy insurance. 

Some of the provisions in the Alexander-Murray bill do raise concerns. For example, its changes to waivers go beyond those proposed in the bipartisan governors’ blueprint, and could increase the risk that waivers in some states could make coverage less affordable for some people. And, the bill is also only an initial and incomplete response to the Trump Administration’s actions undermining the ACA marketplaces.

Congress should guarantee CSRs permanently, not just for two years, to provide greater certainty and stability to the market. And, Congress should address the harmful actions foreshadowed by the Administration’s recent executive order, which would raise premiums, destabilize the individual and small group markets, and undermine protections for people with pre-existing conditions.

Overall, however, the bill represents significant progress. In addition to the bipartisan group of ten governors, including Governor Bullock, numerous patient, provider, consumer and insurer groups support it. It has two-dozen Senate co-sponsors from both parties.

Some House and Senate Republicans, along with the Administration, are rejecting the Alexander-Murray bipartisan stabilization package for the partisan Hatch-Bray proposal, which attempts to hold CSR payments hostage for a renewed version of a “skinny ACA repeal” bill.

Senator Daines should reject the harmful Hatch-Brady proposal and offer his support to the Alexander-Murray bill so that Congress and the President can enact it into law without delay. The sooner this agreement is enacted into law, the more it will do to help consumers and strengthen markets in 2018.

Who exactly is covered under CHIP in Montana?

At the end of September, Congress allowed funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Plan (CHIP) to expire. While Montana has funds to keep the program running for the next few months, the state is expected to run out of federal funds in early 2018. The failure of Congress to act before then will put thousands of Montana children at risk of losing their insurance coverage.

But exactly who is at risk of losing coverage has garnered some questions. In Montana, federal CHIP funds create the program known as Healthy Montana Kids (HMK). HMK has two parts – HMK and HMK Plus. The benefits and network of providers are relatively the same for both plans.

For the time being, coverage under HMK Plus is likely to continue because the state is required by federal law to maintain this coverage. However, without action by Congress, coverage through HMK is almost certainly at risk.

Parents can tell which program their children are enrolled in by taking a look at their kids’ insurance cards. Those with insurance cards for HMK include the logo for Blue Cross Blue Shield and are potentially affected by CHIP funding expiring. Children whose cards say Medicaid or HMK Plus are in the Medicaid program and are not affected. Images of the two different insurance cards can be found on the DPHHS site.

Each program has certain income eligibility requirements, based on the federal poverty level data. Below is a chart that provides a comparison of who is covered in each of the programs.

While the Medicaid portion is not at risk with Congress’ failure to extend CHIP funding, in the past the state has received more federal funds for some of these children. Without an extension to CHIP, the federal government will pay less for the 7,000 children in this group. The state will still provide coverage, but will face increased costs.

Chip Chart

 

Unlike children’s Medicaid and HMK Plus, coverage through HMK is at risk of ending if Congress does not extend funding. If Congress does not act, Montana will run out of federal funds by early 2018. At that point, it could choose to continue to provide coverage using state funds, but it would cost roughly $96 million per year in state funds to maintain that coverage.

Alternatively the state may be forced to cut coverage or end the program. This means tens of thousands of children in Montana are at risk of losing their health care coverage in early 2018 if Congress does not act quickly.

What has CHIP and Healthy Montana Kids meant to your family? Share your story with Montana’s members of Congress and tell them about the impact that HMK has had on your family.

What is Reconciliation?

Perhaps you recall hearing the term “reconciliation” earlier this year when Congress was fired up to repeal the ACA. Well, reconciliation is making a comeback as GOP leadership attempts to pass the 2018 federal budget and then ram through a partisan tax code overhaul.

Together, these measures would benefit the wealthy and profitable corporations, while cutting trillions of dollars in investments made in the states through a broad range of basic public services, assistance for low- and moderate-income Americans, and health care.

While both the House and Senate budget resolutions include deep cuts to SNAP, Medicare and Medicaid, the budget is a non-binding resolution and still requires appropriation bills and other measures to put in place these cuts. However, the budget resolution does set up the mechanism for reconciliation as a way for Congress to “fast track” legislation.

Created by the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, reconciliation allows for faster-than-usual consideration of certain tax, spending, and debt limit legislation. In the Senate, reconciliation bills can’t be held up by filibuster and the scope of amendments is limited under a 20 hour cap, which gives this process serious advantages for enacting controversial budget and tax measures. The Senate can pass a reconciliation bill with just 51 votes.

This reconciliation process permits Congress to enact the federal budget resolution’s program cuts with only a simple majority in the Senate — i.e., without any Democratic votes — and is the same process that GOP leaders had been using to repeal the ACA.

US Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., the seat of the United States Congress.

US Capitol Building in Washington, D.C., the seat of the United States Congress.

The House budget passed on October 5th calls for congressional committees to produce at least $203 billion in savings over ten years through cuts to Medicaid, Medicare, and other entitlement funds to be enacted in the months ahead.  The Senate budget is expected to pass later this week and would add $1.5 trillion to the deficit.

Although the two resolutions have some important differences, they have the same basic architecture: They both establish the reconciliation process with the aim at making massive tax cuts that will primarily benefit the wealthiest and corporations, while paying for them through massive cuts to public services for the vast majority of Americans. Read our initial analysis of the Trump tax plan’s impact on Montana’s working families.

After the Senate vote later this week, House and Senate Republican leaders will create a conference committee to resolve the differences between their two resolutions and agree on one budget resolution that can be used to create the filibuster-proof reconciliation process for the tax package.

When the House and Senate go to conference committee, the final conference agreement will likely include reconciliation instructions that would require Congress to take immediate steps to cut SNAP, Medicaid, and other programs that support moderate- and low-income Montanans.

We’ll continue to track the federal budget development and the next steps for tax legislation in Congress.

Trump’s Tax Plan: Not a Middle-Class Miracle for Montana

The tax framework announced last week by President Trump and Republican leaders in Congress outlines large tax cuts aimed at the wealthiest households in the country – while offering little benefit for working families who are often struggling to cover day to day living costs.

The GOP-Trump Tax Plan is a massive giveaway to the richest 1 percent of taxpayers and increases the national deficit by $1.5 trillion.

Who benefits?

This tax plan is being sold as a “middle-class miracle,” but according to the Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy, it is anything but.

In Montana, the wealthiest 1 percent of households (those with annual incomes of $535,000 or greater) would receive an average tax cut of $68,950 every year. Meanwhile, middle-income earners would see almost no benefit. Montanans who earn about $60,000 per year or less would see an average tax cut of about $190, with those at lower income levels receiving less.

Overall, the richest 1 percent (roughly 5,000 taxpayers) would receive over half (56 percent) of the tax cuts received in Montana. Such enormous tax cuts for the wealthiest would ultimately hurt many Montanans, because the resulting increase in deficits and debt would increase the pressure for cuts in investments across the country that produce long-term economic benefits. Congressional GOP leaders may use deep cuts to Medicaid and Medicare to pay for these tax cuts, gutting programs essential for Montana families and our state budget. It is important to note that approximately 42 percent of Montana’s state budget comes from federal funds.

Average Montana families and communities across the state ultimately stand to lose far more from federal cuts than we would gain from tax cuts outlined in the this new tax framework crafted to benefit the wealthy.

To learn more, see our news release on the tax plan here.

Trump Tax Plan - MT

For a more detailed breakdown of how the tax plan would affect Montana taxpayers, go tohttp://itep.org/trumptaxprelim/.

SNAP: A Public-Private Partnership

SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is a public-private partnership that helps families afford a basic diet, strengthens the national hunger safety net, and reduces food insecurity in America.

A “public-private partnership” is a cooperative and typically long-term arrangement between two or more public and private sectors that work together towards a shared goal or project.

In the case of SNAP, the public partner is the federal government and the private partners are the multitude of businesses, farmers markets, and retailers that participate in SNAP. Participating businesses agree to accept a SNAP payment when customers purchase food at their store with SNAP benefits.

SNAP plays no small part in our national economy. Many types of stores accept SNAP as a form of payment for food purchases, from small local businesses to large national corporations, superstores (such as Walmart), supermarkets (such as Safeway and Albertsons), and convenience stores (including CVS and 7-Eleven stores) In 2016, food retailers nationwide redeemed a total of nearly $66.5 billion in SNAP payments.

In Montana, 763 authorized retailers participate in SNAP. In 2016, these businesses redeemed about $166 million in SNAP benefits.

SNAP MT Economy

SNAP clearly provides an economic boost to our communities by bringing in revenue and creating jobs. Because most households redeem their monthly SNAP benefits quickly, SNAP is one of the most effective forms of stimulus when the economy is weak, generating $1.70 in economic activity for every $1.00 spent with SNAP benefits.

The U.S. House budget resolution currently includes a recommended $150 billion in cuts to SNAP over the next decade through a massive restructuring of the program. This change would not only mean a loss of an estimated 28.4 million meals annually for food insecure families in our state, it would also have a ripple effect throughout communities, businesses, and the larger economy.

Ultimately, solving food insecurity requires sustaining strong public-private partnership with private support, state funding, and effective federal programs like SNAP.

 

 

 

 

Montana children’s health coverage in jeopardy

Federal funding for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which covers tens of thousands of children in Montana, expired on September 30, 2017. Unless Congress acts soon to extend this funding, the state of Montana will soon need to make tough decisions on how to maintain this critical coverage for Montana children. And it won’t be cheap.

Earlier this year, Senators Orrin Hatch and Ron Wyden (the Finance Committee’s chairman and ranking Democrat) actually worked out a bipartisan agreement to extend federal CHIP funding through fiscal year 2022. But the last ditch effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act (Graham-Cassidy bill) derailed efforts to extend federal funding for CHIP. The consequences of this delay will hurt our state and our children. Montana is set to exhaust CHIP funds within the first three months of 2018. It could happen as early as January.

More than 1 in 3 children are covered through Healthy Montana Kids (HMK) – the state’s Medicaid and CHIP program. HMK, which includes both children’s Medicaid and CHIP, not only improves children’s health, it also has lifelong impacts on physical and financial well-being.

Montana uses CHIP in two different ways: through a combination of a separate CHIP program and a CHIP-funded Medicaid expansion. This means a lack of CHIP funding hurts Montana in two different ways.

First, states with CHIP-funded Medicaid expansions would be required to maintain this coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) maintenance of effort requirement, but with far less federal funds to do so. Montana will need to find state funding for the nearly 7,000 kids covered by HMK Plus – the CHIP-funded Medicaid expansion population – if CHIP is not reauthorized. States receive a higher federal match for kids on the CHIP-funded Medicaid expansion than they do for kids on regular Medicaid. The state must continue to cover these kids, despite receiving a lower Medicaid federal match. State costs would increase substantially.

Second, states with separate CHIP coverage would not be required to maintain this coverage if federal funding ends – putting coverage in danger for thousands of Montana children. Unless Congress acts soon, over 23,000 kids in Montana are at risk of losing coverage as the federal funding runs out in early 2018.

Montana, like most states, assumed continued federal funding in the state budget, as well as the continued ACA enhanced match. Our state will be left with even fewer federal dollars and Montana is already facing an enormous budget crisis. Without federal funding, Montana would face increased budget pressure, children would lose coverage, and implementation of program changes could result in increased costs and administrative burden for states as well as confusion for families.

If states close enrollment and/or end separate CHIP programs, some children could shift to parents’ employer-sponsored plans or Marketplace plans, but others would lose insurance altogether. Previously, some states closed enrollment in CHIP for limited periods in response to state budget pressures, and studies show that this led to coverage losses, left eligible individuals without access to coverage, and had negative effects on health and family finances.

If Congress does not act quickly to preserve children’s health care, Montana’s elected officials and families will be forced to make difficult and painful decisions. For more details on the importance of CHIP in Montana, check out our fact sheet: Montana Families Rely on the Children’s Health Insurance Program.

SNAP vs. Block Grants

Forty years ago this Friday, President Carter signed into law the landmark 1977 Food Stamp Act, setting the framework for the modern Food Stamp Program – or, as it’s now known, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

As Congress continues efforts to pass a federal budget, we anticipate large cuts primarily to programs that serve low- and moderate-income Americans. One of these targeted program is SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), formerly known as food stamps.

SNAP is staring at a proposed $150 billion cut over ten years in the current House budget resolution. This proposal cuts the nation’s largest anti-hunger program by 30 percent.

After unemployment insurance, SNAP is the most responsive federal program providing additional assistance during economic downturns.  It also is an important nutritional support for low-wage working families, low-income seniors, and people with disabilities living on fixed incomes. If these cuts go into effect, thousands of Montanans would be at severe risk of food-insecurity.

The plan would impose direct program cuts through restricted eligibility or decreased benefit amounts, while also changing the foundational structure of the program. The bulk of the cuts would come from transferring “significant authority” over SNAP to the states. This means block granting the program.

As we have discussed before, block grants may sound like a benign approach to restructuring programs such as SNAP or Medicaid. But make no mistake: when members of Congress talk about block granting SNAP and giving more control and oversight of this nutrition-assistance program to states, it is anything but benign.

What is a block grant?

The idea behind “block granting” is to take a program, such as SNAP (or remember the health care debate and the GOP desire to block grant Medicaid?) and turn it into a consolidated block grant, which means providing states with a fixed amount of funding to run the program.

So what’s wrong with that?

In short, block grants can’t respond effectively or efficiently in an economic crisis or natural disaster. They also create an incentive for states to restrict eligibility in order to use the grant funding to fill other budgetary shortfalls, and often lose value over time if they do not appropriately account for inflation or population growth.

Right now, the federal government pays the full cost of SNAP benefits and splits the cost of administering the program with the states, which administer the program. SNAP responds quickly and effectively to support families and communities during times of increased need, such as job loss, family crisis, medical emergency, or when natural disaster strike. Enrollment expands when the economy weakens and contracts when the economy recovers and poverty declines.

If turned into a block grant, SNAP could not be a responsive program for the most vulnerable, food-insecure people. In the event of a natural disaster, such as the on-going wild fires that we’ve experienced this summer, SNAP would not be able respond when more families’ lives and jobs are disrupted and more households are in need of food assistance.

If need increased due to a disaster or recession, states would have to bear the entire cost of added food assistance themselves or make state budget cuts to stay within the provided federal block grant amount. Montana is already experiencing a significant revenue shortfall and harmful budget cuts across the board. Our state cannot possibly take on the additional cost of food-assistance payments if we cannot currently adequately fund health care services and our public schools.

Block-granting SNAP is a serious threat. As conversations about the federal budget and SNAP continue in Congress, we will be paying close attention to any cuts to this crucial nutrition-assistance program and any proposed structural changes – like block grants – that may ultimately undermine this successful anti-hunger, anti-poverty program that serves thousands of Montana families and children.

ACA Defense is a Marathon, Not a Sprint

The latest bill to repeal the ACA is by far the most destructive.

Remember the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA) and the Affordable Health Care Act (AHCA) from earlier this summer? Well, ACA repeal is back with a vengeance and the replacement option is bad news for Montana.

With just five days left to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA) using the current reconciliation bill (which allows Republicans to pass the measure 51 votes in the Senate), Senators Graham and Cassidy are still working hard to try to get enough support to pass their repeal bill. Although Senator McCain dealt a major blow to their efforts when he came out in opposition to the bill last week, the President, Senate Republican leadership, and the bill sponsors appear still to be working hard to gain the necessary 50 votes. That means this week is a critical moment for Montanans to make sure our congressional delegation hears what is at stake for Montana.

This Graham-Cassidy bill is just as destructive – if not more – than any of the previous GOP-proposed health care laws.

What would Graham-Cassidy mean for Montana?

Graham-Cassidy would eviscerate protections for Montanans with pre-existing conditions and punish states like Montana, by cutting federal resources for expansion states.

The bill would convert the funding for ACA insurance subsidies and Medicaid expansion into an inadequately funded block grant for the first 10 years, at which point funding would be eliminated entirely. During the first ten years, the block grant would decrease overall federal funding below current law and redistribute large amounts of the remaining funding from expansion states like Montana to certain non-expansion states. The block grant also fails to provide flexible funding to deal with unexpected events like recessions or natural disasters.

A recent report from Manatt Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation estimates that the block grant provision of Graham-Cassidy would result in a loss of $1.5 billion in federal funds to Montana by 2026.

But it gets worse. Graham-Cassidy also fundamentally alters the basic Medicaid program by creating a per capita cap for all of Medicaid (not just expansion), dramatically cutting funding to states for seniors, people with disabilities, and very low-income families. Recent accounts suggest that both Alaska and Montana may be exempt from the first 10 years of the per capita caps. However, according to recent estimates by AARP, from 2027 to 2036, when the per capita caps are in place, Montana would lose an estimated $2.6 to $6.4 billion from the caps.

In 2027, when the block grant funding ceases while per capita caps continue, federal funding to states will drop by almost $300 billion below current law in that year alone. Coverage for hundreds of thousands of Montanans is at risk, including American Indians, people with disabilities, seniors, and children.

Why the big push before September’s over?

The GOP-led Senate is ramming through this last-ditch effort to repeal the ACA because under the existing reconciliation bill, the Senate only needs a simple majority (including Vice President Pence as a potential tie-breaker) to pass ACA repeal legislation. The current reconciliation bill expires on September 30, after which the Senators who want to repeal the ACA would need 60 votes to overcome a filibuster.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that the Senate will take a vote this week. We hope to see the CBO score early this week, but because of the rushed timeline, it is unlikely to have comprehensive numbers regarding potential premium increases or loss of coverage. It’s unconscionable that any public official would vote for a bill with such wide-ranging consequences for our health care system without a full understanding of its effects.

Let’s reenergize for one more week to stop this repeal and hopefully get closer to the end of this marathon battle to protect affordable health care in Montana. Our congressional delegation needs to hear from all of us.