AUSTIN – When the Texas House of Representatives passed HB 2292 on April 25, the stark vision of what compassionate conservatism looks like came more sharply into focus: fewer social services that are more difficult for working people to gain access to, wholesale privatization of these services, and the loss of thousands of public service jobs.

House Bill 2292, which claims to be a government re-organization bill aimed at streamlining government and reducing costs, is actually a huge government giveaway to corporations that finance the campaigns of Texas’s right-wingers. It also represents an unprecedented downsizing of the state’s threadbare social safety net.

As passed by the House, the bill consolidates the eligibility determination function of a number of diverse programs. Eligibility for food stamps, long-term nursing home care, Temporary Aid to Needy Families, Supplemental Security Income, Medicaid, and other programs would all be overseen by the Eligibility Services Division of the Health and Human Services Commission.

Consolidating the diverse programs will make it easier to privatize the process of eligibility determination, a favorite goal of the right-wingers since George W. Bush was governor. The bill contains a section directing the commissioner to privatize these services.

Consolidation and privatization of eligibility services will make them more difficult to access and will hurt working-class and poor communities, especially those in rural areas. Eligibility offices would be closed and replaced with phone centers, with no face-to-face interaction between applicants and eligibility workers. Instead, applicants will talk to phone center operators who will be under tremendous pressure to make the calls as short as possible.

Jobs will be lost too. In some rural areas these eligibility office jobs are among the few with health insurance and pension benefits.

If all this isn’t bad enough, the bill will make deep cuts in the Children’s Health Insurance Program and will require Medicaid applicants to be fingerprinted in order to be eligible.

Advocates for social services and the Texas State Employee Union fought hard to defeat passage in the House, but to no avail. Their attention now turns to the Senate. Their success will depend on how well they can mobilize a mass movement against the bill.

The author can be reached at pww@pww.org

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