Congress’s Commerce Power

In some countries, the national government could devise a way to combat homelessness, fund it, and implement a single solution in the same way throughout the country.  Not so in the United States.  Despite the Court’s broad interpretation Congress’s commerce power, Congress does not have the power to tell states that they must adopt a particular solution to homelessness.

It can, however, use taxpayer money to encourage states to develop solutions.  That’s what Congress and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) have done.  Congress gives money to manage the Medicaid program to the states.  DHHS granted California a waiver from Medicaid rules to implement its own solution, which is to use the federal money to award “Whole Person Care” grants to cities and other groups to coordinate the number of different types of care that vulnerable populations, such as the homelessness, need.

Sacramento received one of the grants.  But while cities, like Sacramento, have the power to create and coordinate the extensive outreach necessary to direct homeless people to medical and mental health care services, counties are the entities charged by the state with delivering those services, and counties are the ones that receive taxpayer funding to do so.  So, implementing a “Whole Person” homelessness solution requires a team of government entities, at different levels, working together to exercise their various powers granted in a constitution or delegated by a legislative body to get the job done. While a system of diffused power encourages new ideas and fresh approaches, it also increases the likelihood of complications, when entities charged with addressing different parts of a policy problem, like homelessness, find it difficult to collaborate.

Yesterday, the Sacramento Bee’s Editorial Board penned its opinion on the current situation in Sacramento. You can read it here.

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