Biden Administration Simplifies Access to Government Benefits

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Navigating the labyrinth of federal government benefits can be an arduous task, with complex paperwork and information hurdles often creating barriers to access. From Medicaid and disability to food assistance and unemployment insurance, these programs are aimed at alleviating poverty and providing support for those in need. However, the convoluted discovery and application processes often deter individuals from signing up, perpetuating the cycle of poverty and inequality. Studies show that fewer than 50% of those eligible for Medicaid are enrolled, while more than half of those potentially eligible for unemployment insurance in 2022 did not apply, largely due to a lack of awareness about their eligibility.

In an effort to streamline this process, the Biden administration issued an executive order in 2021, directing agencies to reduce burdens and improve the customer experience for government benefit programs. The goal is to ensure that all those who are eligible can access and receive benefits. This move is part of a broader initiative to restore faith in the government by demonstrating its efficacy in serving the American people. This includes large-scale projects like the Inflation Reduction Act and CHIPS Act, as well as smaller, but equally important tasks like eliminating barriers to healthcare, housing, and unemployment insurance. This is the first presidential directive seeking to make burden reduction a permanent part of the culture of the federal bureaucracy.

Biden Administration’s Push to Ease Access to Federal Benefits

Navigating the labyrinth of federal benefits can be a daunting task for those in need, often due to complex and time-consuming paperwork. A range of benefits is available – from Medicaid and unemployment insurance to food assistance and disaster relief – but these programs are often hindered by burdensome application processes. Currently, fewer than half of those eligible for Medicaid are registered, and more than half of potential applicants for unemployment insurance in 2022 did not apply due to a lack of awareness about their eligibility.

Reducing the Burden of Accessing Benefits

Last year, President Joe Biden issued an executive order aimed at reducing these burdens and improving the customer experience for benefit programs. Pamela Herd, an expert on administrative burdens at Georgetown University, said that Biden is the first to tackle this problem comprehensively across the executive branch. This initiative is part of Biden’s plan to restore faith in the government by making it more efficient, both at the macro level with acts like the Inflation Reduction Act and the CHIPS Act, and at the micro level by eliminating barriers to accessing healthcare, housing, and unemployment insurance.

Paradigm Shift in the Role of Government Agencies

This directive represents a significant shift away from the traditional role of agencies, which was largely focused on combating waste and fraud. Now, agencies are making concerted efforts to reach out to underserved communities, streamline applications, and improve cross-agency information sharing. K. Sabeel Rahman, who helped spearhead this policy as associate administrator of the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs under Biden, described it as a "very different mentality."

The Time Tax and Paperwork Reduction Act

The arduous process of applying for federal benefits has been dubbed the "time tax" by journalist Annie Lowery. This term refers to the unnecessary paperwork burdens that act as a barrier to people seeking assistance. The Biden administration’s efforts to combat this issue are centered around the Paperwork Reduction Act of 1980, which established the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA) with the mandate to oversee agency efforts to reduce paperwork burdens.

The Challenge of Improving Access

According to the Office of Management and Budget, the American public spent over 10 billion collective hours per year from 2018-2021 responding to federal government requests for information. The Biden administration has issued guidelines to agencies to gather information from current benefit recipients and those who are eligible but have not signed up. This initiative aims to streamline and humanize the application process by considering learning, compliance, and psychological costs.

Federalism and Burden Reduction

The administration’s burden reduction efforts are complicated by the fact that many safety net programs are federally funded but administered at the state level. This arrangement can result in significant variability in how programs are delivered. However, the Biden administration’s focus on burden reduction has created a ripple effect, encouraging states to adopt best practices from the federal government.

Moving Forward

Despite these challenges, experts are optimistic about the administration’s commitment to reducing administrative burdens. The ultimate goal is for all eligible individuals to have access to the benefits they need without excessive time and effort. While this process will take time and requires a shift in bureaucratic decision-making, it represents a significant step towards making government more efficient and responsive to the needs of the American public.

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