The Time Tax

Article by Annie Lowrey: “…In my decade-plus of social-policy reporting, I have mostly understood these stories as facts of life. Government programs exist. People have to navigate those programs. That is how it goes. But at some point, I started thinking about these kinds of administrative burdens as the “time tax”—a levy of paperwork, aggravation, and mental effort imposed on citizens in exchange for benefits that putatively exist to help them. This time tax is a public-policy cancer, mediating every American’s relationship with the government and wasting countless precious hours of people’s time.

The issue is not that modern life comes with paperwork hassles. The issue is that American benefit programs are, as a whole, difficult and sometimes impossible for everyday citizens to use. Our public policy is crafted from red tape, entangling millions of people who are struggling to find a job, failing to feed their kids, sliding into poverty, or managing a disabling health condition.

… the government needs to simplify. For safety-net programs, this means eliminating asset tests, work requirements, interviews, and other hassles. It means federalizing programs like unemployment insurance and Medicaid. It means cross-coordinating, so that applicants are automatically approved for everything for which they qualify.

Finally, it needs to take responsibility for the time tax. Congress needs to pump money into the civil service and into user-friendly, citizen-centered programmatic design. And the federal government needs to reward states and the executive agencies for increasing uptake and participation rates, while punishing them for long wait times and other bureaucratic snafus.

Such changes would eliminate poverty and encourage trust in government. They would make American lives easier and simpler. Yes, Washington should give Americans more money and more security. But most of all, it should give them back their time….(More)”.