mykeystrokes.com

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

“Pitting Retirees Against The Disabled”: GOP Manufacturing A Social Security Crisis To Threaten Benefits For Millions Of Disabled Americans

When conservatives who like to whine about “welfare” are forced to be more specific, some go after the traditional if significantly less generous TANF program of cash assistance, or Medicaid, or those receiving subsidies under Obamacare. But more often these days, they attack either Disability Insurance or SNAP, programs that have experienced large increases in eligibility because of the economy or demographic trends or both.

Congressional Republicans failed last year to force the inclusion of a major reduction in SNAP eligibility in the 2014 Farm Bill. But now they appear to be going after DI, through the half-clever mechanism of pitting beneficiaries against the larger universe of Social Security retirement recipients. Here’s a quick description of the ploy from TPM’s Dylan Scott:

The incoming GOP majority approved late Tuesday a new rule that experts say could provoke an unprecedented crisis that conservatives could use as leverage in upcoming debates over entitlement reform.

The largely overlooked change puts a new restriction on the routine transfer of tax revenues between the traditional Social Security retirement trust fund and the Social Security disability program. The transfers, known as reallocation, had historically been routine; the liberal Center for Budget and Policy Priorities said Tuesday that they had been made 11 times. The CBPP added that the disability insurance program “isn’t broken,” but the program has been strained by demographic trends that the reallocations are intended to address.

The House GOP’s rule change would still allow for a reallocation from the retirement fund to shore up the disability fund — but only if an accompanying proposal “improves the overall financial health of the combined Social Security Trust Funds,” per the rule, expected to be passed on Tuesday. While that language is vague, experts say it would likely mean any reallocation would have to be balanced by new revenues or benefit cuts.

I have zero doubt Republicans will describe this rules change, now that it’s getting attention, as a measure to “protect Social Security,” even though DI is part of the same system, and the ploy may actually be aimed at producing “entitlement reforms” affecting retiree benefits as well as disability eligibility. But Democrats, led by Elizabeth Warren, do seem to be all over this with unusual alacrity:

“It’s ridiculous – but not surprising – that on the very first day of the new Congress, Republicans are manufacturing a Social Security crisis to threaten benefits for millions of disabled Americans – including 233,260 in Massachusetts alone,” Warren said on Facebook. “We can’t turn our backs on the promises we’ve made to our families, friends, and neighbors who need our help the most. House Republicans should stop playing political games to put America’s most vulnerable at risk.”

So we’ll probably see leading Republicans take a low profile on the issue for a while, as their friends in the conservative chattering classes probably ratchet up the talk about the freeloading bums on DI.

 

By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Animal Blog, The Washington Monthly, January 7, 2015

January 9, 2015 Posted by | Disability Insurance, Republicans, Social Security | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Not-So-Soft Racism of Tom Cotton”: A Deliberate Divisive Form Of Racial Politics

Reagan adviser Lee Atwater:

Atwater: You start out in 1954 by saying, “N—–, n—–, n—–.” By 1968 you can’t say “n—–” — that hurts you. Backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights and all that stuff. You’re getting so abstract now [that] you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is [that] blacks get hurt worse than whites. And subconsciously maybe that is part of it. I’m not saying that. But I’m saying that if it is getting that abstract, and that coded, that we are doing away with the racial problem one way or the other. You follow me — because obviously sitting around saying, “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “N—–, n—–.”

GOP representative Tom Cotton, telling a gross lie:

“(My dad) taught me early: farmers can’t spend more than they take in, and I listened,” Cotton said in the ad. “When President Obama hijacked the farm bill, turned it into a food stamp bill, with billions more in spending, I voted no.”

Of course, Cotton isn’t even in the ballpark of truth here. Food stamp bills have long been attached to farm bills in a cat’s cradle knot to encourage urban and rural legislators to vote for each others’ programs. It was the GOP who dissociated them in the hope of cutting food stamps. Obama had nothing to do with it.

But it’s worse than that. It’s no secret that food stamps (now called the SNAP program) have long been racial code for Republicans, even though a large plurality of SNAP recipients are white. When a Republican politician tells his base that he favors cutting food stamps but not farm subsidies, he’s using Atwater’s dog whistle, promising to deliver the pork to rich (white) agribusiness to boost their profits, while stiffing a lot of minorities (most of whom do work at least part-time) who would actually benefit the broader economy by receiving spending money.

Republicans bristle at being called racist in their policies: they feel that Democrats use every opportunity to brand any conservative policy as racist. But that’s because they’ve grown so used to their own dog whistles that they don’t even realize that other people can hear them and take offense.

Tom Cotton isn’t just lying to rural voters about the history of the farm bill. He’s also playing a deliberately divisive form of racial politics that has no place in modern America.

 

By: David Atkins, Washington Monthly Political Animal, September 20, 2014

September 21, 2014 Posted by | Politics, Racism, Tom Cotton | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Robbing-Peter-To-Pay-Paul”: Congress Unites To Screw The Hungry

Five years into our so-called recovery, hunger in America remains stuck at a depressingly high level. The number of families who struggle to put food on the table has barely inched downward, even though employment is up. And while a majority of those struggling families are already receiving food stamps, one of the biggest ways we assist families in need, it’s just not enough, making hunger in America a very real and serious concern.

You would think a generous, wealthy country like the United States would have no problem bolstering an initiative designed to help the working poor in such dire times. Surely, you might think, there is bipartisan support for one of the most successful anti-poverty programs in the country. But in fact there has been bipartisan support for decreasing both the amount of food stamp money families receive and the number of families who receive them.

In any given month, roughly 46 to 47 million people receive food stamps. It’s highly likely that even more families are eligible to receive them, but don’t seek the help because they don’t believe they qualify, are reluctant to go through the hassle of applying, or are subtly or overtly discouraged from doing so by the caseworker they meet.

Food stamps help reduce hunger, but they don’t eliminate it. Estimates released by the United States Department of Agriculture last week show that 17.5 million families struggle to put food on the table, and 62 percent of them were already receiving food stamps. About 6.8 million of those families have so little money for food they skip meals or eat less than they should. Those numbers are about the same they were in the previous year.

The costs of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as food stamps are officially known, went up to about $78 billion a year during the recession, mostly because more people were using them. The increase in use tracks pretty well with the rise in unemployment and poverty during the downturn. More people lost jobs or income, and so more people needed help feeding their children.

In response to the rising need, Congress bumped up the amount of money families got on their benefit cards when they passed the stimulus act in 2009. The reasons were multifold: more money would help struggling families buy more food, but it also meant they spent more at their grocery stores, keeping their local economies pumping. Each dollar spent by the government in food stamps generates about $1.70 in economic activity.

Then, in a rare show of bipartisanship, Democrats and Republicans teamed up to gut the program. As David Dayen reported in The American Prospect, the Democrats were the first to raid this piggy bank when they decided to use food-stamp funds to help pay for a state aid bill in 2010. The stimulus food-stamp boost was supposed to last until about 2016, but the changes the Democrats made meant the extra funding would end earlier, in 2014.

The food stamp program then lost $2.2 billion to help pay for a $4.5 billion increase in the school lunch bill in 2010. Blanche Lincoln, the former Democratic senator from Arkansas who was then chair of the Senate agriculture committee, designed this Robbing-Peter-to-pay-Paul move. It drew opposition from anti-hunger groups but the bill passed anyway, partly because it was a centerpiece of Michelle Obama’s newly launched Let’s Move campaign to fight childhood obesity.

After Democrats laid that foundation, the Republicans came in and began attacking the program. First, they let the stimulus boost expire, which that meant an average family of three receiving benefits lost $29 per month. The cuts went into effect November 2013, right before the holidays.

Next, the House Republicans in charge attacked the base funding itself. Food stamps are the biggest and most expensive component of the farm bill—an arcane piece of legislation that sets farm policy. Because of the 70 percent increase in food stamp spending since the last farm bill had passed, in 2008, House Republicans refused to pass this one when it first went up for a vote last year. It was the first time in history a farm bill failed, and it later passed without the food-stamp component. After the House finally did address nutrition spending and work with the Senate, the program emerged in February with $8.6 billion cut over the next 10 years, so it’s no wonder families are still going hungry.

To be fair, Democrats fought these final cuts to the program: House Republicans originally wanted to cut $40 billion and the Democrats brought that number down. Indeed, a few Democrats—like Jim McGovern of Massachusetts in the House and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York in the Senate—want to rescind cuts and provide even more food stamp funding. But even if they succeed, that money might be too tempting for their fellow party members to pass up the next time they want to spend cash on something else.

 

By: Monica Potts, The Daily Beast, September 8, 2014

September 12, 2014 Posted by | Food Stamps, Poor and Low Income, Poverty | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“So What’s The Point?”: Mandatory ID ‘Isn’t Just For Voting Anymore’

As part of a broader voter-suppression campaign, Republican policymakers in many states now require voters to show a photo ID in order to cast an election ballot. This step, ostensibly intended to combat voter fraud that doesn’t exist, is a hurdle that’s never been necessary before, and which studies show disproportionately affect Democratic constituencies. There’s ample evidence of registered voters already being blocked from voting because of these measures.

But as my msnbc colleague Zack Roth reports, “For Republicans, requiring photo ID isn’t just for voting anymore.” It’s now being applied to recipients of government benefits.

North Carolina’s GOP-controlled legislature – which last year passed a voter ID requirement as part of the nation’s most restrictive voting law – advanced a bill Thursday that would make recipients of jobless benefits also show a photo ID. It’s expected to pass next week. […]

Other Republican-led states are even moving to require photo ID to buy food. Starting in July, welfare and food stamp recipients in Maine will have to show photo ID, under a program pushed by far-right Republican governor Paul LePage. He said transactions records show food stamp cards were used thousands of times at strip clubs, smoke shops, and bars, which isn’t allowed. Georgia recently passed a similar requirement for food stamp recipients.

Given all of these efforts, one might assume that fraud is rampant and that ID requirements would save money while preventing illegal schemes.

Except, that’s not quite right.

As Zack’s report made clear, fraud does exist when it comes to the distribution of government benefits, but most of the wrongdoing is the result of “concealed-earnings fraud,” which refers to people who have financial resources they mask in order to remain eligible for benefits, cheating the system.

How would forcing these people to show ID prevent this fraud? It wouldn’t.

For that matter, because food-stamp benefits are distributed by way of Electronic Benefits Transfer cards through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, ID requirements wouldn’t reduce fraud here, either.

So what’s the point? Proponents will have to answer these questions themselves, though Zack’s report added a key detail:  ”Studies suggest around 11% of Americans – including one in four African-Americans – don’t have a photo ID. Among those who receive government benefits, that number is almost certainly higher.”

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 10, 2014

June 14, 2014 Posted by | Voter ID, Voter Suppression | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Authored By Reagan”: It’s Worse Than Paul Ryan, The Right Has A New Ugly, Racial Dog Whistle

While attention focuses on Paul Ryan’s remarks about inner city culture, another dog-whistle theme continues its slow roil: food stamp abuse. More even than Ryan’s twisting narrative, the brouhaha around food stamps helps make clear that conservatives seek to conjure a much bigger bogeyman than “lazy” minorities.

Ostensibly worried that too many people prefer welfare to work, House Republicans this January stripped $8.6 billion from the food stamp program. This threatened to reduce monthly food assistance by an average of $90 per family — from households that are barely hanging on, with average gross monthly incomes of just $744. Yet far from conceding defeat, states are joining battle by adjusting their programs in ways that evade the cuts, bringing the food stamp debate back.

Just last week, House Speaker John Boehner warned that “states have found ways to cheat, once again, on signing up people for food stamps,” and he implored his colleagues “to stop this cheating and this fraud from continuing.” Cheating and fraud constitute stock themes in the conservative assault on food stamps — tropes applied indiscriminately to both recipients and government. And therein lies a clue to the real target.

To see the actual agenda clearly, though, it helps to reach back to Ronald Reagan, for he perfected today’s conservative assault on food stamps.

Reagan frequently stumped by sympathizing with the anger of voters waiting in line to buy hamburger, while some young fellow ahead of them used food stamps to buy a T-bone steak. With this tale, Reagan invoked the stereotype of the welfare recipient who abuses government benefits to live in luxury (Reagan’s other version: welfare queens).

The comedian Jon Stewart recently compiled a montage of contemporary conservative talking heads spinning just these sorts of yarns about food stamps. It would have been funnier if people weren’t actually being pushed into hunger.

Going to the racial dimensions of these hackneyed fictions, when Reagan initially told the T-bone steak story, he identified the food stamp abuser as a young “buck,” a term then commonly used among Southern whites to refer to a strong black man. This veered dangerously toward open racism, and in any event proved unnecessary. Even after Reagan dropped that term from future renditions, the racial element continued just below the surface, with welfare recipients implicitly colored black.

But this was not a simple plot to demonize minorities. Rather, Reagan had another scapegoat in mind, and here we come to the heart of dog-whistle politics. Ostensibly, even more than grasping minorities, the greatest enemy of the middle class was liberal government. After all, it was government that was reaching into taxpayer’s pockets and wasting their hard-earned dollars.

By “darkening” government itself, Reagan provided the kindling for a taxpayer revolt that ostensibly would cut off funds to the lazy and irresponsible — but that in fact generated enormous windfalls for the very rich. In the 1980s, by one estimate, the top 1 percent of Americans reaped tax cuts worth a trillion dollars, and they’ve received a further trillion dollars from the Reagan tax cuts in each ensuing decade.

Tax cuts for the very rich were just the beginning. By trashing safety-net programs as massive giveaways to undeserving minorities and thereby engendering a general hostility toward government, the right has systematically attacked New Deal programs across multiple domains — from education and housing to marketplace and workplace regulation — undoing in area after area the policies that once promoted an equitable distribution of wealth.

Perhaps to understand the full devastation wrought by modern racial politics, we should bring forward another figure from the shadowed background of the T-bone steak story: the cashier. In the 1970s, she was more likely to be unionized and relatively well-paid, with good benefits. Today, whether white or black or some other race, she is likely working without union protection for a minimum wage whose value has sharply fallen and that cannot sustain a small family above poverty. Indeed, like many Wal-Mart employees, it’s the cashier who today is on food stamps.

When House Republicans war against food assistance, just as when Ryan tilts at government poverty programs that don’t work because of a tailspin of culture in our inner cities, their real target is progressive government. Yes, race-baiting superficially aims at minorities and hits nonwhite communities hard, including the 24 percent of food stamp recipients who are black. But just as cuts to food aid also afflict the 38 percent of program participants who are white, dog-whistle politics savages Americans of every race.

And it devastates every class, too, for this sort of racial politics doesn’t just slam the poor, it imperils all who are better off when government protects the broad middle rather than serves society’s sultans. When conservatives blow that dog whistle, government is the target, and you’re a likely victim.

 

By: Ian Haney-Lopez, Salon, March 22, 2014

March 22, 2014 Posted by | Food Stamps, Paul Ryan, Poverty | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: