mykeystrokes.com

"Do or Do not. There is no try."

“Just Another Vindictive GOP Governor”: Maine Governor’s Welfare Investigation Turns Up Next To Nothing

Maine governor Paul LePage (R) finally has a smoking gun in his effort to restrict welfare programs — at least according to him. According to a much-hyped study conducted by the state department of Health and Human Services, recipients of social programs like SNAP and TANF used money from these programs at places like bars, smoke shops, and strip clubs.

But according to the Bangor Daily News, during the period the study was conducted, these questionable transactions accounted for just two-tenths of one percent of the total money spent from these programs. The small amount of misuse holds steady with the national trend. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, families and single parents who receive public benefits have much smaller budgets on average and spend a larger portion of their budgets on basic necessities.

LePage, however, sees any abuse of the welfare system in Maine as evidence of the need for reform. “Any amount of abuse in the system that takes away from the truly needy needs to be dealt with,” LePage’s spokeswoman told the Bangor Daily News. “We’re not uncovering anything new. There are always going to be bad actors out there. We’re simply saying, ‘We’ve got an eye on you.’”

In fact, what came to light after the study signals a larger problem with the system than LePage expected.“This information is eye-opening and indicates a larger problem than initially thought,”  LePage said in a press release. “These benefits are supposed to help families, children and our most vulnerable Mainers. Instead, we have discovered welfare benefits are paying for alcohol, cigarettes and other things that hardworking taxpayers should not be footing the bill for.”

However, it’s important to note that, according to the Daily News story, “those transactions include purchases at the checkout counter and withdrawals from on-premises ATMs. The state does not track what is purchased in EBT transactions.” So it’s highly likely that a substantial number of the hinted-at “immoral” purchases were not even made.

Similar efforts to expose fraud in social programs were attempted in Florida and Utah. Both states began drug-testing their welfare recipients to weed out drug users. There were similar results: Utah, for example, spent $25,000 to drug-test 4,730 recipients, only 12 tested positive for drugs.

Despite all the evidence to the contrary, LePage is convinced there is a problem with welfare fraud in his state. The answer to this problem? Limits and restrictions to social programs like TANF and SNAP.

First, LePage would back legislation that reforms the lack of paper trail on where welfare money is spent. It’s a measure that Maine Democrats would also support, according to the Democratic House Speaker. “No one wants to see funds meant for struggling families abused,” House Speaker Mark Eves said Tuesday. “State law already forbids EBT cards from being used at liquor stores. If this list is verified, it’s time to take action. The question for the governor is, will he prosecute or politicize it? Democrats will continue to support good-faith efforts at cracking down on fraud and abuse.”

The question of whether this is a good-faith effort to stop fraud, or a political tactic to further a conservative cause, is an important one. LePage’s record on welfare reform doesn’t suggest that his intentions are sincere. In fact, LePage has been encouraging cuts to government aid throughout his term as governor. In 2012, for example, LePage said at a Republican convention: “Maine’s welfare program is cannibalizing the rest of state government. To all you able-bodied people out there: Get off the couch and get yourself a job.”

Previously, LePage instituted a five-year cap on TANF benefits, a move Democrats argue ended benefits for thousands of poor Maine residents. Just last week, Governor LePage also introduced a bill that would increase Maine’s work requirements for welfare recipients, another reform Democrats opposed.

Thus, it’s not hard to conclude that this push to investigate welfare recipients is another partisan move by a notoriously vindictive governor.

 

By: Ben Feuerherd, The National Memo, January 9, 2014

January 11, 2014 Posted by | Maine, Welfare | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Welfare Queens? Welfare Kings Rule The Land”: For Corporations, Giving Is Giving And Taking Is Pure And Simply Taking It All

Since “welfare queens” and the idea of “givers versus takers” are the topic is “du jour” again, let’s look at the forgotten takers: the “welfare kings” on the corporate side.

Section 5010 of the U.S. tax code is a very interesting piece of federal law. Not to pick on my friends in the liquor industry, but we the taxpayers subsidize “flavored” liquors to the tune of $1.1 billion every 10 years. Think about it: when I turned 18 (yes I’m that old), I’d walk into a bar and there would be plain vodka, plain rum, plain gin, etc. Today, walk into a bar and there are thousands of flavors to be had. Why? Well because Section 5010 of the Internal Revenue Code gives distillers a “discount” for adding flavor. Makes sense right? Don’t get me wrong. I love my citrus flavored vodka with club soda. It’s refreshing but I’m not sure if it’s $1.1 billion worth of refreshment in these tight times.

Or take the domestic sugar industry. Case in point: I hate Valentine’s day but not for reasons you may think. It’s a made-up holiday so people tell each other they love each other. That’s ridiculous. So I’m forced to tell you I love you on this day or I’m in the doghouse? Um, not so much. If you have to be reminded to tell your loved one on that day you love them, then you pretty much suck anyway. This past V-Day, I was waiting in the green room for an appearance on MSNBC and I struck up a conversation with a representative from the candy industry. We were talking about this very issue of corporate subsidies and he told me this year, the U.S. government will buy back $80 million worth of sugar from the domestic sugar producers and store it in warehouses because prices didn’t meet government targets. I really kind of like being single, independent, carefree but I’ll be damned if I want my federal government propping up the domestic sugar industry so husbands across America can go buy crappy chocolate for their less-than-pleased spouses.

Or take the domestic oil and gas industries. They make the liquor industry look destitute. We the taxpayers subsidize companies like Chevron, Exxon and Shell to the tune of $7 billion a year. This confuses me. This confuses most Americans.

If you want to dive into the weeds on corporate subsidies, read this. It’ll blow your mind.

While we’re at it, let’s look at America’s small businesses. Every small business is allowed certain deductions, from business meals to gas or mileage to depreciation of computers. What is a deduction, really? It’s taxpayer-subsidized welfare. Greedy small business owners!

According to the Cato Institute, we the American people subsidize corporate America to the tune of more than $90 billion annually, while individual people on welfare only pull down around $59 billion. I like simple math. It’s easy for me to understand. Corporations are getting the better end of that bargain but I don’t hear Sen. Mitch McConnell and Reps. Jack Kingston and Bill Cassidy – the latest decriers of welfare – declaring a war on the corporate CEOs (who are actually driving real Cadillacs). The hypocrisy is staggering.

Let me be clear: These provisions may be good policy. You’re welcome to make that decision. My point is, if we are going to keep having a conversation about “welfare queens” then I’m going to wholeheartedly keep talking about the “welfare kings of industry.” After all, giving is giving and taking is pure and simple taking.

Oh, and I almost forgot: Here’s a great interactive map where you can pinpoint current data on “welfare queens” by state and congressional district. And Congressman Kingston, you best be thankful that a majority of the kids in your district can’t vote or you’d lose reelection.

 

By: Jimmy Williams, U. S. News and World Report, December 20, 2013

December 21, 2013 Posted by | Corporations, Welfare | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Humiliating Desperate People”: The Myth Of Welfare And Drug Use

Now, if you’re the kind of person who forwards apocryphal stories about voter impersonation and drug-addled welfare queens, this makes sense to you—obviously, if you’re on public assistance, you’re probably using drugs. But, if you’re the kind of person who takes facts seriously, this is a ridiculous idea.

While drug use is more common among women receiving welfare, the overall incidence rate is small; in one study, only 3.6 percent of recipients satisfied screening criteria for drug abuse or dependence. Among food-stamp recipients—another group targeted for testing—the rate is similarly low.

The myth of welfare recipients spending their benefits on drugs is just that—a myth. And indeed, in Utah, only 12 people out of 466—or 2.5 percent—showed evidence of drug use after a mandatory screening. The total cost to the state was $25,000, or far more than the cost of providing benefits to a dozen people. The only thing “gained” from mandatory drug testing is the humiliation of desperate people.

Which, judging from the GOP’s continued enthusiasm for the idea, is enough. In Ohio, for instance, state senator Tim Schaffer has introduced legislation that would establish a drug-testing program for the state’s welfare program. “It is time that we recognize that many families are trying to survive in drug-induced poverty, and we have an obligation to make sure taxpayer money is not being used to support drug dealers,” Schaffer said. “We can no longer turn a blind eye to this problem.”

If Ohio is anything like Florida, which also has a drug-testing program, Schaffer will find that the large majority of welfare recipients are neither drug users nor drug dealers. From 2011 to 2012, just 108 of the 4,086 people who took a drug test failed—a rate of 2.6 percent, compared to a national drug use rate of over 8 percent. The total cost to Florida taxpayers? $45,780.

The most colossal failure of this policy was in Arizona, which passed a drug-testing law in 2009. In 2012, an evaluation of the program had startling results: After three years and 87,000 screenings, only one person had failed the drug test, with huge costs for the state, which saved a few hundred dollars by denying benefits, compared to the hundreds of thousands spent to conduct the tests.

Of course, none of this has dampened enthusiasm for these laws, which is why Republicans in Michigan’s House of Representatives have passed a bill that requires tests if there’s “reasonable suspicion” a welfare applicant is using drugs or other illegal substances. Likewise, a Tennessee Republican in Congress wants to do the same. North Carolina lawmakers passed a similar law, but—in something of a surprise—it was vetoed by Governor Pat McCrory, who in a statement, said “This is not a smart way to combat drug abuse.”

It isn’t. It should be said, however, that the focus on cost and effectiveness obscures a broader point: Mandatory drug testing for welfare benefits is unfair and immoral. Drug use isn’t a problem of poverty; it’s found among all groups and classes. Indeed, if we’re going to test welfare applicants—who receive trifling sums of money from the government—it makes as much sense to test bailout-receiving bankers, loan-backed students, defense contractors, tax-supported homeowners, married couples with children (who receive tax credits), and politicians, who aren’t strangers to drug use.

In other words, if stopping waste is your goal, then drug screening should be mandatory for anyone receiving cash from the government, which—in one way or another—is most people. But Republicans haven’t proposed testing for church clergy or oil executives. Instead, they’re focused on the vulnerable, with schemes that would embarrass a Bond villain.

Trapped in its right-wing, anti-government mania, the GOP has become a party defined by its disdain for the poor, and esteem for the wealthy. It’s the reason Mitt Romney railed against the “47 percent,” built a convention around praise for “job creators,” and endorsed an agenda that reduces the debt by decimating social services. Indeed, when Republican politicians aren’t attacking the disadvantaged for their alleged lack of virtue, they’re calling for us to shred the “hammock of dependency,” as if low-income Americans spend their lives in comfort, resting on the government dole. To the Republican Party, a comprehensive health-care law—inspired by conservative ideas—is more offensive than a country where millions go without insurance and care.

In this GOP, at this time, it’s only natural that Republican lawmakers would go after welfare recipients. Since, to many in the party, they deserve it.

 

By: Jamelle Bouie, The Daily Beast, August 30, 3013

August 31, 2013 Posted by | Welfare | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“MInd Boggling”: Tennessee Advances Legislation That Would Tie Welfare To Children’s Grades

Two Tennessee lawmakers introduced legislation that would tie welfare assistance under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to the educational performance of students who benefit from it, and the legislation was approved by committees in both the state House and Senate last week.

Under the legislation brought by two Republicans, a student who doesn’t not make “satisfactory progress” in school would cost his or her family up to 30 percent of its welfare assistance, the Knoxville News and Sentinel reported:

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Stacey Campfield, R-Knoxville, and Rep. Vance Dennis, R-Savannah. It calls for a 30 percent reduction in Temporary Assistance for Needy Families benefits to parents whose children are not making satisfactory progress in school.

As amended, it would not apply when a child has a handicap or learning disability or when the parent takes steps to try improving the youngster’s school performance — such as signing up for a “parenting class,” arranging a tutoring program or attending a parent-teacher conference.

When Campfield introduced the legislation in January, he said parents have “gotten away with doing absolutely nothing to help their children” in school. “That’s child abuse to me,” he added. Tennessee already ties welfare to education by mandating a 20 percent cut in benefits if students do not meet attendance standards, but this change would place the burden of maintaining benefits squarely on children, who would face costing their family much-needed assistance if they don’t keep up in school.

TANF, meanwhile, is failing students and their families. It serves fewer impoverished families and children than its predecessor did before the 1996 welfare reform law was instituted, and it especially failed during the Great Recession, when the rate of families served fell in 35 states despite increases in both poverty and unemployment. And Tennessee’s welfare program is hardly robust — the maximum benefit is $185 a month and hasn’t changed since 1996. Given that low-income students already struggle to keep up in school, further reducing the already-modest benefits they receive from TANF isn’t likely to improve educational outcomes. It could instead make them worse.

 

By: Travis Waldron, Think Progress, April 1, 2013

April 2, 2013 Posted by | Poverty, Welfare | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“Red State America”: Moochers Against Welfare

First, Atlas shrugged. Then he scratched his head in puzzlement.

Modern Republicans are very, very conservative; you might even (if you were Mitt Romney) say, severely conservative. Political scientists who use Congressional votes to measure such things find that the current G.O.P. majority is the most conservative since 1879, which is as far back as their estimates go.

And what these severe conservatives hate, above all, is reliance on government programs. Rick Santorum declares that President Obama is getting America hooked on “the narcotic of dependency.” Mr. Romney warns that government programs “foster passivity and sloth.” Representative Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, requires that staffers read Ayn Rand’s “Atlas Shrugged,” in which heroic capitalists struggle against the “moochers” trying to steal their totally deserved wealth, a struggle the heroes win by withdrawing their productive effort and giving interminable speeches.

Many readers of The Times were, therefore, surprised to learn, from an excellent article published last weekend, that the regions of America most hooked on Mr. Santorum’s narcotic — the regions in which government programs account for the largest share of personal income — are precisely the regions electing those severe conservatives. Wasn’t Red America supposed to be the land of traditional values, where people don’t eat Thai food and don’t rely on handouts?

The article made its case with maps showing the distribution of dependency, but you get the same story from a more formal comparison. Aaron Carroll of Indiana University tells us that in 2010, residents of the 10 states Gallup ranks as “most conservative” received 21.2 percent of their income in government transfers, while the number for the 10 most liberal states was only 17.1 percent.

Now, there’s no mystery about red-state reliance on government programs. These states are relatively poor, which means both that people have fewer sources of income other than safety-net programs and that more of them qualify for “means-tested” programs such as Medicaid.

By the way, the same logic explains why there has been a jump in dependency since 2008. Contrary to what Mr. Santorum and Mr. Romney suggest, Mr. Obama has not radically expanded the safety net. Rather, the dire state of the economy has reduced incomes and made more people eligible for benefits, especially unemployment benefits. Basically, the safety net is the same, but more people are falling into it.

But why do regions that rely on the safety net elect politicians who want to tear it down? I’ve seen three main explanations.

First, there is Thomas Frank’s thesis in his book “What’s the Matter With Kansas?”: working-class Americans are induced to vote against their own interests by the G.O.P.’s exploitation of social issues. And it’s true that, for example, Americans who regularly attend church are much more likely to vote Republican, at any given level of income, than those who don’t.

Still, as Columbia University’s Andrew Gelman points out, the really striking red-blue voting divide is among the affluent: High-income residents of red states are overwhelmingly Republican; high-income residents of blue states only mildly more Republican than their poorer neighbors. Like Mr. Frank, Mr. Gelman invokes social issues, but in the opposite direction. Affluent voters in the Northeast tend to be social liberals who would benefit from tax cuts but are repelled by things like the G.O.P.’s war on contraception.

Finally, Cornell University’s Suzanne Mettler points out that many beneficiaries of government programs seem confused about their own place in the system. She tells us that 44 percent of Social Security recipients, 43 percent of those receiving unemployment benefits, and 40 percent of those on Medicare say that they “have not used a government program.”

Presumably, then, voters imagine that pledges to slash government spending mean cutting programs for the idle poor, not things they themselves count on. And this is a confusion politicians deliberately encourage. For example, when Mr. Romney responded to the new Obama budget, he condemned Mr. Obama for not taking on entitlement spending — and, in the very next breath, attacked him for cutting Medicare.

The truth, of course, is that the vast bulk of entitlement spending goes to the elderly, the disabled, and working families, so any significant cuts would have to fall largely on people who believe that they don’t use any government program.

The message I take from all this is that pundits who describe America as a fundamentally conservative country are wrong. Yes, voters sent some severe conservatives to Washington. But those voters would be both shocked and angry if such politicians actually imposed their small-government agenda.

 

By: Paul Krugman, Op-Ed Columnist, The New York Times, February 16, 2012

February 19, 2012 Posted by | States, Welfare | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

   

%d bloggers like this: