Sunday, January 29, 2012

Obama's 'Welfare State'

One man's shame and pride of the joining Food Stamp Nation:

In the 1980s Ronald Reagan was raising the frightful specter of “welfare queens driving Cadillacs.” Public assistance has always carried the puritanical stink of stigma and guilt.

As Francis Fox Piven and Richard Cloward explained in their classic book Regulating the Poor - The Functions of Public Welfare, guilt and shame have long been the intentional features of public aid, along with various forms of coerced labor and invasive monitoring, dating all the way back to England’s poor laws of the 16th century.

This was done for two primary reasons: 1.) To control social order and 2.) To extol the virtue of labor, even at the lowest wages, by making the treatment of the destitute so punitive and degrading that the no one wants to descend into beggary and pauperism.

Today’s much demonized welfare capitalism in America is usually propagated by the Republicans who goad and bait our nation’s first black chief executive as “the food stamp president.” But food stamps are not the problem, nor are they the solution. They are a basic Band-Aid that barely keeps people afloat, while America’s corporations and the exceedingly rich make off like bandits, vacuuming their profits away from the public treasury.

The Republicans want the American voters to think that Obama gives away billions of dollars to lazy welfare people, who then spends all this "free government money" on drugs, cheap wine and cigarettes. In reality, most of these needy Americans spend their government assistance on more important things, such as their rent, heat, electricity and food...and ironically, things that benefit the very corporations that the Republicans represent.

As a former Republican and being very familiar with both sides of the argument, I can now say that Obama didn't create a "welfare state" or an "entitlement society". If any political party had more of an influence, it was the Republicans.

But the Republicans have been very busy trying to scare the American voters into believing that a "socialist" Obama has been driving our country into a "European-style" type of society. Yet the last I heard, Germany's unemployment rate was at 5.5% - - just a little bit better than China's at 6.1% (and that's where all the evil Marxists live!)

It's been the Republicans who have been driving us into a "welfare state". First, by busting the labor unions to depress our wages; then the Republicans deregulated the banks; then after inheriting a budget surplus from Bill Clinton they engaged the country in two unpaid wars; then they drastically lowered the tax rates for the rich (the Bush tax cuts); then they drove up the deficit and caused the housing collapse (e.g. Gingrich and Freddie Mac); and then ultimately they caused the crash of the stock market in late 2008...and all of this happened long before Obama was even elected to be our President!

Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Fox News and all the Republicans have accused President Obama of turning this country into a "welfare state" and an "entitlement society". That is entirely untrue.

Since President Bill Clinton signed "welfare reform" into law in 1996, the welfare roll had shed 7.9 million people off of welfare. There are many less people on welfare today than there's been in the last 15 years!

Going back to 1984 Newt Gingrich once said, "No one must fall beneath a certain level of poverty, even if we must give away food and money to keep that from happening." He urged the creation of day-care centers for "welfare mothers" who would otherwise be forced to leave work early to go home or study.

Since the beginning of the Great Recession and the economic crash of 2008, America has had to endure massive layoffs when millions of average middle-class American workers had lost their jobs, had their homes foreclosed on, and were reduced to living in poverty. Most of these Americans have never before in their lives, ever known what it was like to be poor. But since late 2008, just like myself, millions now do.

Obama didn't cause the Great Recession (or even make it worse), but he has tried very hard to fix the problem, but with little to no help from the Republicans, who were more disgruntled about losing the 2008 election to a black man than they were about the general welfare of the American people.

The Republican have been more concerned with passing anti-abortion laws, giving tax breaks to the rich, building a pipeline for big oil companies, and cutting jobless benefits and food stamps for the unemployed, rather than putting Americans back to work earning a "living wage".

Now we have 50% of all U.S. workers who earn less than $26,364 a year - - and the government says the poverty level for a family of four is $22,350. I defy someone like Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney to try and live on that annual income. I would bet them $10,000 that they'd apply for food stamps. (I'd like to see them both in a real-life situation like in the movie Trading Places).

And this week Mitt Romney also called low-income earners "free riders" for using hospitals and emergency rooms when they or someone in their family became ill or injured.

If any of those families could have afforded their own healthcare insurance, they would have paid an average of $414 per month last year. Millions of unemployed Americans might have once been eligible for COBRA too, but most couldn't afford those high insurance rates either. It's not that they're "free riders", they just can't afford the cost of healthcare insurance after they pay for their rent, heat, electricity and food. What part of that don't the Republicans understand? This is not class warfare, it's math.

Many Americans now earn so little that, after their standard deduction and personal exemptions, they might be absolved from having to pay any federal income taxes (but they still must pay all other taxes). Yet the Republicans and Fox News like to rail against those people for "not paying any taxes" or "not having any skin in the game", as if somehow they were all a bunch of lazy tax cheaters trying to game the system!

By the time Newt Gingrich made his campaign speeches in 1993-94, he had definitely changed his tune: In Newt Gingrich's Contract With America, he suggested that minor girls should not be eligible for Aid to Families With Dependent Children if they became pregnant.

He said in his speeches, "It is impossible to maintain civilization with 12-year-olds having babies, 15-year-olds killing each other, 17-year-olds dying of AIDS, and 18-year-olds getting diplomas they can't even read. Yet that is precisely where three generations of Washington-dominated, centralized-government, welfare-state policies have carried us."

With those two sentences alone Newt Gingrich found the message that convinced the nation to elect a Republican majority to Congress. That majority chose him Speaker of the House (and we witnessed what later happened).

Welfare TANF (The Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) was created by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act instituted under President Bill Clinton in 1996. The Act provided temporary financial assistance while aiming to get people off of that assistance, primarily through employment. There is a maximum of 60 months of benefits within one's lifetime, but some states have instituted shorter periods.

The Republican talking point "they live on welfare from the cradle to the grave" is a big Republican lie.

The number of recipients for TANF ("welfare") has drastically fallen from 12.3 million Americans in 1996 to only 4.4 million in 2010. In February 2009, as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009, Congress had created a new TANF Emergency Fund, funded at $5 billion.

The conservative Heritage Foundation claims: "The growth of welfare spending is unsustainable and will drive the United States into bankruptcy if allowed to continue. President Barack Obama’s fiscal year 2011 budget request would increase total welfare spending to $953 billion."

Per the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, total assistance and non-assistance expenditures for welfare TANF (family support programs—grants to states that help fund welfare programs, child support enforcement, and child care entitlements) was $18 billion in 2010...about the same as what the corporate executives earn collectively every year with government welfare contracts in our massive defense and oil industries.

The Congressional Budget Office reports that outlays for unemployment benefits went from $119 billion in 2009 to $133 billion in 2010, spurred by the massive layoffs, a high unemployment rate, the outsourcing of jobs, and corporate down-sizing and pay cuts during the Great Recession. (EUC is Extended unemployment compensation).

In fiscal year 2011, the federal government spent about $78 billion on SNAP (food stamps).

Our annual budget is over a trillion dollars a year in a $13 trillion economy, of which $658 billion is allocated just for defense spending alone, and that doesn't even include the Department of Energy, which is budgeted for our nuclear arsenal. So the Heritage Foundation's quote of " $953 billion" is numerically impossible if they are just counting TANF, SNAP, and EUC. And that wouldn't leave very much left over to pay for congressional salaries, which are $174,000 a year for each member in annual "big government" spending.

But when the Republicans or the Heritage Foundation say "welfare" or "welfare state" or "an entitlement society", they aren't just referring to TANF ("welfare"), unemployment benefits (EUC), or food stamps (SNAP). They also include Medicaid, housing assistance for the elderly, Pell grants to help poor students afford college tuition, low-income home energy assistance, and the Head Start for pre-kindergartners (among many others).

But oddly, the Republicans never include "corporate welfare" in their "welfare state", such as taxpayer-paid research & development and taxpayer-paid subsidies that are given away to profitable corporations like big oil. And the Republicans also believe that Social Security retirement and disability and Medicare for the elderly should also be considered "welfare" and "entitlements" and "out of control big government spending" and "government hand-outs". Public assistance has always carried the puritanical stink of stigma and guilt.

But yet House Speaker John Boehner thinks that taxpayer-paid subsidies to the big tobacco companies is a perfect example of how to spend taxpayer's money - - and that we should also give them a tax break. (Read: 280 Corporations that are "Too Big to Tax")

But getting back to "welfare" - To become eligible for any low-income programs ("welfare entitlements"), a family or individual has to first be "means tested", and it's not very easy to qualify. For an example, I had to have almost ZERO in assets and income to even qualify for state Medicaid and food stamps; and if I didn't cash out a retirement pension, I could have qualified for a measly $400 a month in financial assistance...but I don't qualify because I don't have children.

I defy someone like Newt Gingrich or Mitt Romney to try and live on $400 a month and food stamps. I'd like to see how many Cadillacs they could buy living on that budget.

A Government Accountability Office study found that "each year of the more than 80 means-tested programs that the federal government provides, just 12 account for as much as $330 billion in annual federal expenditures." The three most expensive are TANF ("Welfare"), unemployment insurance (EUC), and food stamps (SNAP) which at $229 billion, accounted for the majority of that spending in 2010-11. We spend twice as much protecting poor people with defense spending than we do so that poor people might live.

Food stamps has always been another means-tested program. Because of vastly high unemployment since the economic crash in the Fall of 2008, the average number of people on SNAP every month hit a record high of 44.7 million in 2011 (many are kids, most are white, and almost all are unemployed or working for dirt wages).

According to the USDA, in 2010, about 43% of households on food stamps had gross incomes at 50 percent or less of the poverty line. A full 85% had gross incomes below 100 percent of the poverty line (that's only $10,830 a year for a single person such as myself. The remaining 15% were often elderly beneficiaries on fixed incomes such as Social Security.

PolitiFact recently debunked Newt Gingrich's claim that food stamps could be used for a trip to Hawaii. And President Obama just denied Newt's claim that "Obama is the food stamp king" by saying, "I don't put people on food stamps, people become eligible for food stamps."

Obama had also pointed out that the eligibility was expanded under George W. Bush, and that "when you have a disastrous economic crash, more people are going to need more support." (Thank you Mister President.)

And as we were recently reminded of in the GOP debates, the former Speaker of the House's fascination with space and technology is related to his concerns over a " permanent welfare state". For Newt Gingrich, the welfare state drains budgets and stifles innovation. Those who question whether Newt Gingrich has been consistent in his approach to welfare issues should take note of his words in 1984 on what stymies space exploration and government seed money for biotechnology and futurist research:

In Window of Opportunity Gingrich wrote: "The amazing fact was that America literally stood in the Moon and watched in its living rooms as the dream of freedom reached out beyond our planet in 1969. And yet we turned back and wallowed in the problems of the welfare state for a decade. Food stamps crowded out space shuttles; energy assistance crowded out a solar-power-satellite project that would have provided energy for all; more bureaucracy in Health and Human Services shoved aside a permanently manned space station."

And now in 2012 Newt Gingrich wants the poor to starve and freeze to death so that we can afford to have 13,000 Americans manning a space colony on the Moon. Most likely he would want it to be populated with poor and unemployed people on welfare and food stamps, to be tested as guinea pigs.

While Newt Gingrich's attacks on "welfare queens" and food stamps might have helped him with his Contract with America back then, the Republicans had at that time most undoubtedly perceived most unemployed and poor Americans as being black, but today most are white - - and of those, half are either Republican or Independent voters. Newt's attacks on unemployment benefits and food stamps has been an attack on the very people he wants to vote for him. But for some odd reason, this is a reality that the Republican politicians just can't seem to grasp.

Newt Gingrich and the Republicans have waged a class war with TANF ("welfare"), unemployment benefits, and food stamps.

What the Republican don't want you to know about these "welfare" programs

* According to the Government Accountability Office only 3.5% of food stamps benefits (SNAP) were found to be overpaid, but analysis found that two-thirds of all improper payments were the fault of the caseworker, not the participant. There were also instances of fraud involving the exchange of food stamp benefits for cash and/or for items not eligible for purchase with food stamps, but most was because of the merchants, not the recipients.

* Mark Zandi, chief economist for Moody's, provided estimates of the one-year fiscal multiplier effect for several fiscal policy options, and found that a temporary increase in SNAP was the most effective, with an estimated multiplier of 1.73. In 2011, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack gave a slightly higher estimate: "Every dollar of SNAP benefits generates $1.84 in the economy in terms of economic activity."

* There is a maximum of 60 months of benefits for TANF ("welfare") within one's lifetime, but some states have instituted shorter periods. The "welfare from cradle to grave" argument is a big Republican lie. According to my own personal experience, one has to be next to homeless to even qualify. It's not at all as Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, and Newt Gingrich describes when they claim we're "living off their uber-wealthy wallets".

Why do all the Republicans, and those idiots at Fox News, and Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney always castigate the poor, low-income earners, and the unemployed? Especially when they are so fortunate themselves? Why do they always blame the unemployed, the poor, the "illegals", and the low-income earners for all this nation's problems?

As a former Republican I have no doubt now. For decades the Republican Party has been doing everything they could to convince average working Americans that their hard-earned money was being wastefully squandered away on the poor and minority Americans - - when in reality, the Republicans have been representing the wealthier Americans who don't want to pay for the working American's "welfare" either, such as Social Security when they get too old or sick to work any longer.

And the Republicans would also rather deny working Americans unemployment benefits and food stamps, after their corporate constituents outsourced their jobs overseas for cheaper labor and bigger executive bonuses.

The Republican plan has always been to balance the budget on YOUR back, by dividing and conquering all the voters (the working-class, the middle-class, the working-poor, and the poor), rather than tax the rich and large corporations their fair share.

America isn't Obama's "welfare state". Obama is just the temporary caretaker of a Republican-created impoverished nation, a country THEY built for the benefit of only the wealthiest Americans and the largest that only THEY could enjoy THEIR entitlements and THEIR "welfare".

·´'`·. Subsidies for the Rich and Famous .·´'`·

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  1. President Obama and other low-wage worker advocacy groups have some allies. Mitt Romney, Chris Christie, and Michael Bloomberg all support raising the minimum wage to $9.50 an hour and indexing it to inflation. Millionaire Newt Gingrich takes the more traditional GOP position: "Raising the minimum wage is a 'job killer'."

    And then Newt wonders why we have a "welfare state".

  2. Great article, Bud. Seems to me that the real 'foodstamp president' is (are) the corporate CEO's and politicians who advocate lower wages, including abolishing minimum wage requirements, lack of workers benefits such as access to healthcare/affordable insurance premiums - all in the name of higher (record level) corporate profits and executive salaries/bonuses...