Friday, October 25, 2013

When the going gets tough, the poor get shafted

People like President Bill Clinton and then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich claimed they'd be doing welfare recipients a favor in the 1990s when they reformed the welfare program to impose work requirements and make it more difficult for people to get benefits. The idea was that welfare recipients were just lazy and that their government checks were keeping them from working, making them dependent on the government.

Funding for welfare (now called TANF) hasn't increased since 1996, meaning that in real terms, what the country spends to help poor families in the program has fallen 30 percent overall since welfare was "reformed". And benefit levels have fallen even more in some states that cut benefits after the financial crisis started in 2007.

The US Census Bureau reports that the number of Americans suffering significant hardships, such as having utilities cut off, getting evicted, or suffering food shortages, has escalated sharply during the recession. Between 2005 and 2011, nearly 7 million additional people were unable to make a mortgage or rent payment, suggesting that as the nation's last-ditch safety net for people in really dire straits, TANF, is not working.

Now extended unemployment benefits are ending at the end of the year, even though unemployment is still very high. Also, the Republicans are trying to drastically cut food stamps. And even some Democrats seem willing to cut Social Security benefits to the elderly with chain-CPI. And since the Great Recession there have been numerous attacks on those seeking disability. It seems whenever the banks and the "job creators" screw up, the poorest of the poor have to take all the cuts.

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