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“Please Do Not Feed The Animals”: State GOP Equates Food-Stamp Recipients, Wild Animals

On the right, it’s not unusual for conservatives to take great offense to accusations that they don’t like people in poverty. It’s not personal, Republicans argue; their opposition to social-insurance programs is about conservative economic theory and the scope of government. There’s no animosity or ill will.

But once in a while, evidence to the contrary rips off the mask. The NBC affiliate in Oklahoma City reported today:

The Oklahoma Republican Party is under fire after a controversial Facebook post.

In the post, the Oklahoma GOP compared providing food stamp benefits for Americans in need to feeding animals at national parks…. The post has received more than 1,400 comments and 1,600 shares.

The state Republican Party’s message is every bit as offensive as one might think. It began by saying the federal “food stamp program … is proud to be distributing this year the greatest amount of free Meals and Food Stamps ever.”

It added, “Meanwhile, the National Park Service … asks us “Please Do Not Feed the Animals.” Their stated reason for the policy is because “The animals will grow dependent on handouts and will learn to take care of themselves.”

The Oklahoma GOP concludes, “Thus ends today’s lesson in irony.”

Let’s unwrap the argument, because it’s offensive on more levels than one.

First, the Oklahoma Republican Party believes food-stamp distribution has reached an all-time high. That’s factually incorrect. In fact, GOP lawmakers have already successfully cut food aid to the poor.

Second, comparing poverty-stricken families to wild animals suggests that for some Republicans, hostility towards the poor is personal. It is about animosity and ill will. Forget the high-minded explanations about economic theory – equating the poor and wild animals is evidence of contempt.

And third, that’s not what “irony” means.

ThinkProgress noted that the state GOP took down the post, posting a classic non-apology apology in which the Oklahoma Republican Party said it was sorry “to those who were offended” and “for any misconceptions that were created.”

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) published a Facebook message of her own, adding that she accepts the state party’s explanation “that he was not intentionally disparaging any group of people.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, July 14, 2015

July 15, 2015 Posted by | Food Stamps, Oklahoma Republican Party, Poor and Low Income | , , , , | 1 Comment

“Creating Straw Politicians”: Scott Walker And The GOP Are Wrong About The Safety Net

It’s back and Democrats are going to have to deal with it. I’m talking about the political argument that they want to lure as many people as possible into government dependency.

This is a staple of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker’s incipient presidential campaign, and he frames it as simple common sense. “Oftentimes when I think about the president and people like Hillary Clinton, I hear people who I think measure success in government by how many people are dependent on the government. By how many people are on food stamps and Medicaid and unemployment,” he said this week at the Florida Economic Growth Summit in Orlando. “I don’t know about all of you, but my belief in America is that we should measure success by just the opposite.”

Walker added: “I don’t remember any of my classmates saying to me ‘Hey, Scott, someday when I grow up, I want to become dependent on the government.’ Nobody signed my yearbook ‘Dear Scott, Good luck becoming dependent on the government.’”

Very funny, and a lot more appealing than Mitt Romney’s assertion that 47 percent of the electorate is dependent on government and will never take responsibility for themselves. The problem with Walker’s formulation, however, is that he’s creating straw politicians. President Obama and Clinton and practically everyone in their party — in fact both parties — talk incessantly about education, job creation, income inequality, and how to increase wages. That doesn’t sound like a yearning for Handout Nation. It sounds like people obsessing over how to make America a country of tubs standing on their own bottoms.

I’m not saying that Democrats haven’t given Republicans ammunition. The 2012 Obama campaign’s “Life of Julia” cartoon slideshow was a parody waiting to happen. From Julia’s enrollment in Head Start as a preschooler to her retirement aided by Medicare and Social Security, the sequence gave off a distinctly Soviet, cradle-to-grave vibe.

As pediatric neurosurgeon-turned GOP candidate Ben Carson put it in his announcement, “We’re not doing people a favor when we pat them on the head and say ‘there there, you poor little thing, we’re going to take care of all your needs. You don’t have to worry about anything.’ You know who else said stuff like that? Socialists.” That was less than a week after a real socialist — Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders — announced he was running for the Democratic nomination.

Obama came into office amid the worst recession since the Great Depression. The rolls of the three programs Walker named swelled as people lost jobs, income and health insurance. Job losses climbed to a terrifying 818,000 in January 2009, the month Obama was inaugurated. Another 2.2 million jobs were gone by the end of April. The unemployment rate was at or near 10 percent for eight months. So yes, there were a lot of people relying on government programs, for good reason. The private sector had completely failed them.

Obama’s chief economic message for years has been about sustained job creation and an unemployment rate nearly down to half its recession peak, not high enrollment in safety-net programs. Democrats do try to educate people about benefits for which they may qualify. But the goal is to get them on their feet, not lock them into dependency.

There is one area of government “dependency” that Obama and his party are proud of, and that is health insurance. The Department of Health and Human Services said this week that 10.2 million people bought private health coverage this year under the Affordable Care Act, and 85 percent of them receive federal subsidies to help pay for it. Millions more have been able to enroll in Medicaid as a result of the ACA expansion of the program to people with incomes slightly above the official poverty line. For those who believe health coverage should be universal, the numbers justify a victory lap.

People who receive insurance help, or food stamps or unemployment benefits, do indeed depend on the government — just like farmers, homeowners, corporations, and anyone else who receives subsidies or tax breaks, as well as companies that don’t provide health insurance or living wages. And just to be clear, if they are not children, disabled, or elderly, people who use the safety net often have jobs. Nearly 43 percent of all food-stamp recipients live in a household with earnings, according to the Department of Agriculture. The Kaiser Family Foundation, in a study of states that haven’t adopted the Medicaid expansion, found there are workers with full- or part-time jobs in 66 percent of the families eligible for it.

Jeb Bush has called the safety net “a spider web that traps people in perpetual dependence.” We are going to hear a lot of statements like that in the next 18 months. But that doesn’t make them true.

 

By: Jill Lawrence, The National Memo, June 4, 2015

June 5, 2015 Posted by | GOP, Scott Walker, Social Safety Net | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Self-Professed Christians”: First Quote Jesus; Then Punish The Poor

Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker.” — Proverbs 14:31

It’s not my habit to start a column with a quotation from the Bible, but this one’s loaded with self-professed Christians, so why not?

In the mid-1990s, during my time as a metro reporter and feature writer for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, I started writing stories about people who lived in poverty.

I learned early to avoid certain words and descriptions that ignited the ire of certain readers who would rather shame fellow Americans for their dire circumstances than consider why so many of them live in poverty. And often just blocks away from our front doors.

As a columnist, I still sometimes fall back on those rules:

Unless crucial to the story, don’t refer to the flat-screen television in the living room or the car in the driveway, no matter how many miles are on it. A depressing number of people will want to know why a poor person needs a TV or an independent mode of transportation.

Avoid mentioning a tattoo unless it’s central to the narrative. Even then, brace yourself for the onslaught of angry readers demanding to know whether taxpayer money paid for that ink.

And just skip the part about the gold cross dangling around the neck of the grieving mother. I admit this is born of self-preservation. The number of people who are more interested in how she got her jewelry than how her son died will eat at your soul.

So here we are, facing another round of legislative attempts to humiliate poor people who can’t fight back. Lots of headlines but little noise from most of us. I’m not the cynic who thinks everybody’s heart has shriveled to stone. I do, however, worry that our exhaustion is fueling these heartless victories.

In Missouri, the pending House Bill 813 stipulates, “A recipient of supplemental nutrition assistance program benefits shall not use such benefits to purchase cookies, chips, energy drinks, soft drinks, seafood, or steak.”

This bill was introduced by state Rep. Rick Brattin, who identifies himself and his family on his website as “devoted Christians.”

In Wisconsin, a new bill would dictate that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits could not be used to buy crab, lobster, shrimp, or any other variety of shellfish.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, the Baptist preacher’s son who insists his marching orders come from God, wants to take it further: Anyone who applies for unemployment, food stamps or another assistance program would have to prove his or her sobriety.

“This is not a punitive measure. This is about getting people ready for work,” he said. “I’m not making it harder to get government assistance. I’m making it easier to get a job.”

In Kansas, we have Gov. Sam Brownback, who last year said, “Our dependence is not on big government, but it’s on a big God, who loves us and lives within us.”

Brownback just signed a bill into law that prevents welfare recipients from spending their assistance on “expenditures in a liquor store, casino, jewelry store, tattoo or body piercing parlor, spa, massage parlor, nail salon, lingerie shop, tobacco paraphernalia store, vapor cigarette store, psychic or fortune telling business, bail bond company, video arcade, movie theater, swimming pool, cruise ship, theme park, dog or horse racing facility or sexually oriented retail business.”

You might wonder whether there was any evidence of such widespread spending, but that would mean you’re in search of facts and you’re definitely not going to fit in with this crowd.

State Sen. Michael O’Donnell, also the son of a pastor who likes to mention Jesus when explaining his opposition to helping the poor, told the Topeka Capital-Journal last month: “We’re trying to make sure those benefits are used the way they were intended. This is about prosperity. This is about having a great life.”

Democratic state Sen. David Haley’s response: “This is a troubling elitism here that this body is embracing during what, for many of us, is Holy Week. We really have to look in the mirror. We can’t say something on Wednesday and shift gears on Sunday and think somebody isn’t paying attention.”

As the late Rev. William Sloane Coffin once put it, “it is ironic to think of the number of people in this country who pray for the poor and needy on Sunday and spend the rest of the week complaining that the government is doing something about them.”

“Ironic” isn’t the word that immediately comes to my mind, but what do I know? I’m just a Christian-in-training, not one of those experts willing to insult our Maker.

 

By: Connie Schultz, Pulitzer Prize-Winning Columnist and Essayist for Parade Magazine: The National Memo, May 22, 2015

May 22, 2015 Posted by | Christians, Poor and Low Income, Poverty | , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

“Walker Pushing Drug War Testing Scheme”: And He Doesn’t Care That The Courts Say That’s Unconstitutional

According to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, what American employers are really looking for these days is “someone who can pass a drug test.”

Walker made that remark in a question-and-answer session in Washington, D.C., Friday following his remarks at the American Action Forum’s inaugural Fred Malek lecture series, which are named after the GOP powerbroker who served as Richard Nixon’s “Jew counter”). The Wisconsin governor is expected to formally unveil the drug testing proposal in his budget next week.

The imitative would require drug testing for recipients of government benefits like food stamps and Medicaid. Walker says his plan is justified because there are many open jobs waiting for people who can pass drug tests and know “how to show up [for work] everyday five days a week.”

Walker first touted the idea while running for re-election last year, and pledged to “require a drug test for those requesting unemployment and able-bodied, working age adults requesting Food Stamps from the state.” But, sadly for Walker, the plan is almost certainly unconstitutional.

Federal courts have found that laws that require all recipients of welfare benefits to be drug tested violate the 4th Amendment as an unconstitutional search and seizure. However, states have recently passed laws that only require drug tests for those on government assistance for whom there is “a reasonable suspicion” of illegal drug use. This is considered far more likely to pass constitutional muster than blanket drug testing of everyone who applies for public assistance.

Walker did seem aware of these obstacles at the event, describing the pushback from the courts as “a classic example where the federal government pushes back and says you can’t do that.”

But even if Walker does manage to require drug testing for welfare recipients, the plan would likely be quite expensive for taxpayers. Before it was overturned in federal court, Florida’s mandatory drug test law ended up costing the state more money than it saved.

In the meantime, it does make for good political rhetoric. Very few candidates have won election on a platform giving more money to drug addicts. But Walker’s plan is unlikely to turn into effective or lasting legislation.

 

By: Ben Jacobs, The Daily Beast, January 30, 2015

January 31, 2015 Posted by | Drug Testing, Scott Walker, Welfare Recipients | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Ugly Assumptions Driving The Policy”: GOP Governors Recommit To Welfare Drug-Testing Schemes

The Wall Street Journal recently noted that when it comes to welfare recipients, “few” applicants have been caught up in the “drug-screening net.” How few? The piece noted that in Arizona, for example, between 2011 and 2014, over 108,000 people seeking benefits were subjected to drug screen. A grand total of 2 applicants were disqualified due to testing positive.

Note, I don’t mean 2 percent; I mean literally 2 individual people out of 108,408.

In recent years, the idea of imposing drug tests on welfare beneficiaries – which is to say, poor people receiving aid; those who receive corporate welfare benefits are exempt – has become exceedingly popular among many Republicans. The problem for proponents is that the programs keep failing – in practice, in the courts, or both.

And yet, several GOP policymakers just can’t seem to help themselves.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) is pushing forward with a plan to make food stamp recipients pass drug tests – a requirement that the Obama administration says violates federal law. […]

The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (known as FoodShare in Wisconsin), says it’s against the rules for states to require drug testing as a condition of receiving benefits. The federal government could yank administrative funding from states that are out of compliance – a threat the USDA leveled at Georgia over a similar drug testing scheme last year. Georgia backed down.

Walker has been aware of the rule from the start. “We believe that there will potentially be a fight with the federal government and in court,” he told the Journal Sentinel in September.

Indeed, for the ambitious Republican governor, it’s a two-fer – he gets to look “tough” on poor people in advance of his presidential campaign, and at the same time, Walker gets to boast about a big fight with the Obama administration, which will make a nice addition to his presidential stump speech.

Of course, it’s not just Walker. Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) recently approved a policy of drug testing welfare recipients, and Maine Gov. Paul LePage (R) is an enthusiastic supporter of the idea.

The case against the policy is pretty straightforward. It’s legally dubious for states to require poor people to give up bodily fluids in exchange for benefits they’re entitled to; it’s exceedingly expensive to administer the tests; and wherever these policies have been implemented, they’ve failed to produce much of anything in the way of results.

But as we’ve discussed before, perhaps the most striking problem is the ugly assumptions driving the policy itself. For many, especially on the right, it makes sense to assume those who are struggling are to blame for their plight.

If you’re relying on TANF aid to help your family keep its head above water, maybe there’s something wrong with your lifestyle.  If you’ve fallen on hard times and need the public safety net, the state should probably assume you have a drug problem.

Real-world evidence, however, points in a different direction.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 23, 2015

January 26, 2015 Posted by | Drug Testing, GOP, Welfare Recipients | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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