COVID-19

This post was originally shared to my Facebook page.

As the federal government starts actually talking about some form of a temporary relief payment, let’s talk about means-testing.

Means-testing is the process by which the government decides who is eligible for a social service. Your income must be below X. Your family must look like Y.

How do you verify that someone’s income really is below X? Well, you have to inspect their accounts. You have to monitor them. You have to treat them with suspicion. You’re encouraged to err on the side of false positives–if you think someone might be ineligible, better to cut them off than risk letting someone “cheat the system”.

That requires extra resources.

For whatever reason, there’s a certain subset of liberals that have, this year, decided that the “universal” in “universal healthcare” and “universal basic income” should really mean “universal only for people who need it”. They welcome means-testing so that “the kids of rich billionaires don’t get free college”. And look, I understand the sentiment. It comes from a good place.

But the resources and system it would require to ensure that “only people who need it” get these benefits? They make the process so much more bloated, inefficient, and cruel.

Universal should mean universal. That’s the simplest way forward. If the government cuts you a $1000 emergency relief check and you don’t need it, then donate it to someone who does. Give it to the Americans United to Eat the Rich charity of your choice. You have many options for not keeping it. But let’s not preemptively burden a program for social good with the stipulations, bureaucracy, and inefficiency that means-testing requires.