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Hullabaloo


Sunday, March 31, 2013

 
"The poverty rate among families is back up to 1996 levels" --- so let's do some more "reform" shall we?

by digby

Here's a heartwarming story about the greatest country in the world.  It tells how our vaunted federalist system, where states are often squeezed by tight budgets, leaves only the federal government to pick up the slack when the economy goes south.  Unfortunately, we've had a 30 year jihad (70?) on federal government programs that have left them struggling as well.

I wish I could say that this is the result of GOP obstruction and intransigence, but unfortunately it's just as much a result of Democratic "reform" efforts.  Get a load of this:

This story of a program financed by states that hasn’t been able to keep up with demand is the same for another huge part of the social safety net: welfare, or as we know it now, TANF. TANF does even worse than unemployment: it reaches just 10 percent of the children living with unemployment parents and just 30 percent of those living in poverty. The program used to do much better: in 1996, it reached 70 percent of poor families with children living in poverty. But then there was welfare reform, which turned it from a cost-sharing model to a block grant. Rather than the federal government sharing the costs with the states, the government now doles out lumps of cash and mostly lets states handle the rest. That lump doesn’t change even if the economy gets worse and more people live in poverty—and hasn’t even kept up with inflation.

While welfare reformers initially claimed victory as rolls fell during a booming 90s economy, the numbers have continued to fall even as jobs have disappeared. The poverty rate among families is back up to 1996 levels, but TANF’s caseload has fallen by 60 percent since then.

The author goes on to explain how other programs have been struggling to fill the gap --- as she points out, these people have no less need for food and shelter than they ever did. But the strain on these other programs is substantial. And anyway, they are now being targeted as well.

This is a real headline:
Opinion: Food-stamp reform can combat obesity
In fairness, that article only proposed to educate food stamp recipient about healthier food choices, so it isn't what it looks like. There are many permutations of "food stamp reform" some of them quite reasonable (although hardly a high priority.) But there are a whole lot of people out there advocating for a different kind of "reform." Bascially it comes down to fighting "dependency", which now means, evidently, dependency on food.

This is the Freedomworks proposal, which is very similar to Paul Ryan's, and it's signed by a whole bunch of right wing groups:
Use block grants: Replacing the annual appropriation with a block grant would give states an incentive to control costs. This is an improvement over current policy, in which states have an incentive to procure as many federal dollars as possible. Last session, Rep. Huelskamp introduced a bill (H.R. 6567) that proposed to merge the six food welfare programs in the Farm Bill into a single block grant.

Apply income and asset tests to categorically eligible households: A major driver of the growth in food stamp spending is state-based efforts to increase benefits and expand eligibility. An increasing number of recipients are automatically, or “categorically,” eligible for benefits based on their participation in other programs. According to the Congressional Budget Office, adding income and asset tests to categorical eligibility requirements would trim average annual outlays by $12 billion over 10 years.
Roll back spending on Title IV to FY2008 levels: Federal outlays for nutrition programs in 2008 were $37.6 billion; in 2013, they will total $82.0 billion. Returning spending to FY2008 levels would strike a balance between fiscal responsibility and providing a reasonable social safety net.

Separate Title IV from the rest of the Bill: Nutrition assistance is unrelated to the agricultural subsidies contained in the rest of the bill and it deserves its own treatment in separate legislation. Washington needs to stop rolling massive programs together in order to secure votes and shield programs from much-needed reform. Last session, Sen. Ron Johnson made a motion to send the bill back to the Agriculture Committee with instructions to strike Title IV—the title dealing with food stamps (SNAP) and other nutrition programs. We urge you to take this important step this year.
Basically, they want to pretend that there has been no increased need since 2008, which is false. And then they want to turn this over to the states, many of which will then use it to squeeze their poor, just as they have with all the other "devolutions" to the states. (I'm going to guess that they want to separate out the agricultural subsidies from the rest of it so they can continue to reward Big Ag with taxpayer money as Jesus intended.)

Read the whole article and you'll find that for all the recent sturm und drang about hordes of lazy moochers allegedly taking advantage of federal programs, real poverty is rising in this country and we have a much more porous safety net. And if the politicians of both parties in Washington have their way, it's not going to improve much. After all, their austerity policies may well doom us to more of the same for many years to come.

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