By:  Shelley Cadamy
Source: Tulsa World

Shelley Cadamy: Taking Away Health Coverage is No Way to Strengthen Oklahoma’s Workforce

The Trump administration recently announced it would allow states to impose work requirements on adults who get their health care through Medicaid. Work requirements can seem like a good idea on the surface — a handful of Oklahoma lawmakers have already filed legislation to put them in motion. However, work requirements for SoonerCare are too simplistic to address the very complicated problem of getting every able Oklahoman into the workforce.

I’m a workforce development director, and when I talk with employers about work requirements, they’re initially excited. That excitement fades when they learn that people will lose their health benefits if they don’t work. When I let them know that 85 percent of working-age SoonerCare members are already or were recently working, their excitement fades further. And when I tell them that of those who don’t work, two in three are ill or disabled, or are caring for children or aging parents, they’re no longer excited.

SoonerCare is a health care program, not a jobs program. If our goal is to fill the jobs that Oklahoma companies desperately need filled, we should instead fully fund the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which actually is a jobs program. It creates the federal workforce system of which Workforce Tulsa is part. We connect job-ready talent to employers. For people in low-paying jobs (like many SoonerCare members), we help get training for in-demand occupations. Then we place them into a great job where they can demand a family-supporting wage with their new skills. We do this with federal funds only, because Oklahoma doesn’t contribute any state dollars to workforce development.

The people we see at Workforce Tulsa want desperately to work, but they often face hurdles that a work requirement will not solve. For many, this includes a lack of affordable child care and elder care — and what’s available is at risk of vanishing because the Legislature fails to fund basic services properly.

Similarly, employers often tell me about job candidates who are a great fit but can’t pass a drug test. That’s another hurdle that will not be resolved by a work requirement. Instead, we need more addiction recovery and mental health services.

Finally, people who want to work need to be able to get to their jobs. This is very difficult without a private vehicle, which very few low-income people have. Even our best mass transit options do not operate after hours or on the weekends, when quite a few low-income workers need to get to work. This is not a challenge that a work requirement will fix.

To encourage work in Oklahoma, we should look toward resolving the state budget crisis and investing in proven workforce development programs, quality child care and elder care, and transportation solutions. Taking away Oklahomans’ health care won’t do the job.