Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Monday, January 2, 2017 1:15 pm

Mean(s) testing

Sadly, this is “normal,” but it is not OK:

Food stamp recipients in North Carolina soon will lose benefits unless they prove they’re working, volunteering or taking classes for at least 20 hours a week.

That federal requirement – which applies to adults under 50 who don’t have children – was suspended in 2008 as the recession hit and unemployment rates rose. But the exemption ended Jan. 1 for 23 mostly urban counties across the state, including Wake, Durham and Mecklenburg.

While the 77 other counties are seeing a slower economic recovery and could continue the federal exemption, the state legislature acted last year to restore the work and education requirement statewide starting July 1.

The change affects 115,000 North Carolinians who will have to document work, volunteer or education activities or lose their food stamp benefits. Recipients can still get up to three months of benefits without meeting the requirement. …

What is the purpose of imposing, or reimposing, such a requirement?

Sen. Norman Sanderson, a Republican from Pamlico County, said the change would push unemployed people on food stamps to look for work. “I think you’re going to see a lot of them go and get that 20-hour-a-week job, or they’re going to enroll in some sort of higher education to improve their job skills,” he said before the September vote.

The legislature also voted separately to increase requirements for unemployment benefits. As of Jan. 3, unemployed people filing new claims must make five “contacts” with prospective employers or they won’t receive an unemployment check. The job inquiries can be made online or in person.

“Short of telling them, ‘You can sleep all week,’ how much more reasonable can it get?” said Rep. Michael Speciale, a New Bern Republican, in August when that bill passed the House.

Ah, I see. We want to make sure that people who are on food stamps and/or unemployment are not just sitting around, not trying to do anything to improve their situation. Well, that’s certainly a very important message to convey, so I guess the legislature also provided ways and means to make sure that the people who need to receive this message do so, right? Not so much, it turns out:

Nancy Coston, director of Orange County Social Services, said her staff has to speak with 700 people who are affected there.

They have to determine “who’s working, who’s in school, and we can’t tell that without interviewing them all,” she said. “Many of them probably are not aware of this because the waiver has been in effect for a while.”

Well, at least the legislature made the measure a prominent issue when it enacted it, right?

The July 1 change for 77 counties was tucked into an unrelated immigration bill that passed the legislature in September. The changes for food stamp recipients were overshadowed by the outcry from immigration groups concerned about a ban on “sanctuary cities,” where local governments choose not to enforce federal immigration laws.

[Rick] Glazier [leader of the liberal advocacy group N.C. Justice Center] said sponsors of the bill probably knew the immigration provisions would distract attention from the food stamp changes.

“Those who ran it very much calculated where it was being put,” he said.

I see.

But, certainly, the legislature wouldn’t impose harsh or impractical requirements on some of our society’s most vulnerable citizens, right? They wouldn’t unduly burden the people Jesus calls “the least of these,” would they?

“It’s part and parcel of a ripping away of the safety net,” said Rick Glazier … . “The legislature is going to have to revisit these decisions.”

While state leaders can’t change the requirements for the 23 counties that no longer qualify for a federal exemption, Glazier said it’s irresponsible to apply the same standards to the 77 counties that aren’t recovering as well.

“There’s no data that those 77 counties’ economic conditions are likely to change,” he said.

Alexandra Sirota, director of the Justice Center’s Budget and Tax Center, said some people will struggle to meet the requirements because they don’t have transportation or might not have volunteer opportunities available in their communities.

Oh, c’mon. How tough could this be? After all, all 100 N.C. counties have excellent public transit, don’t they?

Nonprofits, [Sirota] said, “very rarely get a 20-hour-a-week slot for anybody.” And workforce training programs fill quickly.

“If they’re in a rural place, it’s hard for them to drive to the community college,” she said.

People who lose food stamp benefits probably will turn to food banks, which expect more demand for emergency food supplies because of the change.

Jennifer Caslin, a spokeswoman for the Food Bank of Central and Eastern North Carolina, said the nonprofit already serves food stamp recipients who need additional help.

“Our system has been stretched for a while, and this is going to stretch it even more,” she said.

The kindest thing that can be said about this proposal is that it betrays a stunning ignorance of what it’s like to be poor and unemployed in North Carolina. But even granting that possibility ignores some pretty damning context. After all, Bill Clinton’s welfare reform is now 20 years old. There is, and has been for some time, a ton of information available to policy makers on how well different policies work. Put less charitably, there’s no excuse for ignorance.

And after all, if the real goal were to ensure that public dollars are being spent wisely, wouldn’t some similar sorts of means testing be applied to other public benefits, particularly those on which much more public money are spent?
Wouldn’t government contractors be banned from making political contributions, so as to ensure that the taxpayers enjoy a true arms-length relationship with their vendors?
Wouldn’t corporations granted charters by the states be required to operate at least minimally in the public interest — and at the very least be barred from acting against the public interest by, say, bribing politicians or polluting — as they were when corporate charters first became a thing?
If we’re going to drug-test welfare recipients, shouldn’t we also drug-test the lawmakers who require it?
I’d be all in favor of steps like those.
But the real goal isn’t to ensure that public dollars are being spent wisely, just as lawmakers’ ignorance of poverty isn’t what led to this measure. No, the real issue simply is that conservatives like to punish poor people for being poor. They have a sociopathic need to punch down. They do it, as we say here in the South, out of pure meanness. They have neither empathy nor shame. They need to be called out on it, and they need to be punished at the ballot box for it.

 

 

Thursday, October 31, 2013 10:04 pm

You want scary? Here’s scary: Congressional Democrats trying to help poor people.

Why are millions of Americans about to have their food stamps (SNAP) cut tomorrow? Because Congressional Democrats are the worst, most inept defenders of America’s most vulnerable in the history of, well, forever:

WASHINGTON — A group of nine Democratic members of the House of Representatives held a press conference outside the Capitol on Tuesday to demand Congress avert an automatic food stamp cut scheduled to take effect on Friday.

“The average family of four will see a $36 cut in their monthly benefits, bringing the average per-person benefit from $1.50 a meal to $1.40 a meal,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) said. “Shame on this Congress for allowing this to happen.”

But the cut, which will reduce monthly benefits for all 47 million Americans enrolled in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by roughly 7 percent, is happening thanks mainly to Democratic votes that hastened the demise of a benefit increase from the 2009 stimulus bill. Each of the representatives at Tuesday’s presser voted with their party for a pair of 2010 spending bills that set the cuts in motion.

The first bill took money allocated for future food stamp use and used it instead to prevent states from laying off teachers. Democrats supported the bill grudgingly, lamenting that it would cause a food stamp cut in 2014. When it came time to support a second bill that raided future food stamp funds once again, pushing the cut to November 2013, they protested — at least at first.

“This is one of the more egregious cases of robbing Peter to pay Paul, and is a vote we do not take lightly,” more than 100 Democrats wrote in an August 2010 letter to then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).

But then President Barack Obama smoothed things over in a meeting at the White House, because the bill in question was the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act — a priority of the first lady’s. The measure provided free lunches and updated nutrition standards for schools.

“I am very pleased we were able to work together with the president and his team to address concerns regarding cuts to the food stamp program that are included in the child nutrition bill,” Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) said in a statement at the time. On Tuesday, Lee told HuffPost the president had pledged to support replacing the SNAP funds, a vow he fulfilled in subsequent budget blueprints that didn’t become law. Congress and the White House have been otherwise silent about the issue for the past three years.

Now, you may have heard that the GOP is seeking cuts — $40 billion over the next 10 years — in food stamps, while continuing to support the indefensible agricultural subsidies that, along with food stamps, are part and parcel of the same agriculture bill now under discussion. And you’re right; they are. But the cuts that are going into effect tomorrow are a separate issue and were aided and abetted by a nontrivial number of Democrats — and this was back in 2010, when Democrats still controlled the House. Democrats hope you won’t notice this.

Digby comments:

They are actually defending the fact that they were forced into choosing between vegetables and fruits for school lunches and food stamps for poor people. Our progressive representatives passively capitulated to the absurd notion that we could not do both. How many of these “deals” have Democrats made over the past few years?

Too damn many, is how many. On pretty much every issue of importance to the poor, the middle class, women, minorities, consumers — basically every constituency except rich white men and large corporations — Democrats have gotten rolled over and over and over again.

I sometimes get asked why, given how nutzo the party has gone in the past 20 years, I remain a Republican. My reasons are my own, but, swear to God, some days I feel like saying something stupid like, “Because at least they’re competent.”

Friday, August 2, 2013 6:59 pm

Quote of the day, welfare-cuts edition

Filed under: Evil,I want my country back. — Lex @ 6:59 pm
Tags: , , ,

Steve Benen at the Maddow Blog, on  House GOP plans to double cuts in food stamps to $40 billion and impose new eligibility and drug-testing requirements for recipients:

If Ayn Rand were alive today, this is the sort of bill that would lead her to say, “Aren’t you guys overdoing it a bit?”

The original version of the bill would have cut $20 billion from food stamps, which is bad enough. But apparently the House GOP believes that poor people in America aren’t suffering enough, that they must endure even more pain. And then the whole drug-testing thing, which was actually tried in Florida and ended up costing more than it saved.

These people are psychopaths, and they must be stopped.

Thursday, July 26, 2012 8:53 pm

“This is the gate of the Lord, enter into it, you who have fed the hungry.”

Filed under: Evil,Religion — Lex @ 8:53 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

From my friend Rabbi Fred Guttman, originally posted on Facebook, via my friend John Graham:

Food Stamps – Last week, the House Agriculture Committee passed a Farm Bill which slashes $16 billion from one of the most effective anti-poverty programs in our nation, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. At the same time, the overall cost of the bill does not go down but adds an additional $9.5 billion over 10 years for an entirely new agribusiness subsidy under the guise of crop insurance. A cut of this magnitude means that at least 2 million families will lose access to the program. All told, about 1 billion fewer meals will be available to low-income families each year—meals that are a bargain for taxpayers at about a $1.60 a meal—as well as a basic responsibility for our society. 85 percent of those receiving Food Stamps are living on incomes below the federal poverty line of $23,350 for a family of four. In addition, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has calculated that each dollar of supplemental nutrition assistance benefits create $1.79 in increased economic activity. America’s “hunger bill”—the cost of avoidable illness due to poor nutrition and poor education outcomes due to hunger—is already over $165 billion.

Three points:

Here in Greensboro, both Conservative and Liberal congregations support the very needed and I would say holy work of the Greensboro Urban Minsitry. The leadership at GUM is extremely concerned about such proposed cuts.

Second, I cannot see how this is not class warfare, an example of taking from the poor to give to the wealthy.

Finally, I leave you with a small piece of rabbinical teaching from the time of Jesus himself. “When you are asked in the world to come, ‘What was your work?’ and you answer: ‘I fed the hungry,’ you will be told: ‘This is the gate of the Lord, enter into it, you who have fed the hungry’” (Midrash to Psalm 118:17)

(Some additional context, from the News & Record.)

A presumably well-meaning but misguided friend of mine took issue with this point, suggesting that government anti-poverty efforts have been both inefficient and wasteful:

Now let me be clear, I don’t object to poor people getting help. My problem is a government throwing money at programs that clearly aren’t working. Consider this: All this welfare spending adds up to $20,610 for every poor man, woman and child in the country.

For a poor family of three, that’s nearly $62,000 dollars. The poverty line for that family is just $18,500. With this kind of spending, poverty should be wiped out – instead it’s growing.

Today, one in seven Americans is living in poverty. The most in almost two decades. All the while spending is soaring.

And, welfare spending for the last four decades — adjusted for inflation? Up, up, up. How can we spend all this money, and see so little progress? …

… we should be stopping the taxes and bloated regulations that hold back economic growth and job creation. People need work, not handouts.

Unfortunately the only solution the president sees is throwing more money at the problem. More government, instead of less. More dependency instead of empowerment.

Leaving aside for a moment the “up, up, up” argument, whether or not adjusted for inflation, and whether or not more properly calculated on a per-capita basis or as a percentage of GDP, that was an awful lot of both factual and contextual inaccuracy in just a few lines. I responded:

You know what, [friend’s name]? First of all, don’t change the subject. Second of all, I can sleep a lot better at night if govt money is being wasted so that people don’t go hungry than I can if it’s being wasted blowing sh*t up in an illegal war or bailing out criminal banksters.

Poverty is growing because the government hasn’t done enough direct economic stimulus to stimulate demand enough to lead businesses, which are sitting on $2 trillion in cash, to create jobs. And it hasn’t done enough because Republicans LIKE having American workers poor and desperate.

Deficits are soaring primarily because of 1) our broken health care system, the least efficient in the Western world, which the ACA at least goes some way toward fixing; 2) two wars, both of which Obama put back on budget after Bush ran them off-budget, and a defense budget unnecessarily sized at bigger than those of the next 26 largest combined, most of whom are our allies; and 3) the fact that federal taxation is at its lowest rate as a % of GDP in 60 years AND that top marginal rates on the wealthy are at their lowest rate in longer than that.

And why is that? Because of GOP obstructionism, aided and abetted by a few badly confused and/or corrupt Democrats.

You want to make excuses for screwing over poor people? Fine; go do it on your own page.

All most religions ask of us is basically that we not be dicks. And stealing food from the mouths of the hungry to give it to large corporations is being a dick.

 

 

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