By Raymond Nava
The Democrats potential plan to means-test their free community college proposal is ludicrous.
The White House and Congressional Democrats are reported to be looking at attaching a means-test for their free community college proposal as a way to shrink the cost of their reconciliation bill.
A means-test is a method used to determine whether someone qualifies for financial assistance.
Linking a means-test defeats the purpose and idea of free community college. Democrats should push back against this purported suggestion.
While details on a potential means-test for free community college are not known, it would likely mean having an income threshold of some kind to access the benefit.
When the American Rescue Plan was being worked on earlier this year, the $1,400 stimulus checks were means-tested. This meant that the eligibility threshold is lowered, reducing the number of people who would qualify to receive them.
It would be absurd to put any threshold on a free community college program and then continue to call it a universal program.
Business Insider reporter Joseph Zeballos-Roig reported on Tuesday that Virginia Democratic Senator Tim Kaine wanted to apply means-testing to free two-year community college.
The current plan would allow everyone access to the program, but a means-test would mean it would be limited to lower-income people who meet a threshold.
This is beyond frustrating as it is almost no different than the current financial aid program, where people in the middle once again cannot get access because they could be barely above whatever threshold is in place.
An argument that can be made in favor of means-testing is that wealthy individuals shouldn’t get access to free college because they can afford it.
This argument would fall flat mainly due to very low odds that rich people would be going to a two-year community college in the first place. But even if they did, the whole point of a universal free program like free community college is that everyone, regardless of financial situation, gets access to it. Affluent individuals would also likely be taxed along with everyone else to fund the program, which would entitle them to access a public system for which their money is being taxed.
In the unlikely scenario, rich people end up using the free community college program, which would be beneficial. This would destigmatize the system in the eye of the public. Adding a means-test and capping eligibility to less fortunate people gives the program stigmatization. Food stamps are an excellent example of a public program that some people feel ashamed of if others were to find out they used. A free community college program used by wealthy and poor individuals, regardless of whether rich people use it, would stop any stigmatization from being attached to it.
Means-testing a free community college program is a wrong decision and takes away the whole point of it being universal. The fact that Democrats continue to butcher proposals that would otherwise be slam dunk wins is just frustrating. Democrats need to get their act together and stop contemplating an outlandish goal of putting a means-test on free community college.