Thursday, September 12, 2013

Rightwing Welfare Myth versus Fact

cross posted from MNPP

The Institute for Southern Studies  Tazra Mitchell wrote a great piece about what conservatives mistakenly believe about welfare assistance and the social safety net, and in the same piece debunked how conservative think tanks lie and deceive their base to believe these myths:
A wildly misleading report released recently by the conservative Cato Institute says that it pays to be jobless and poor. In an attempt to bolster a laughably farfetched theory sometimes referred to as “the hidden prosperity of the poor,” the authors conclude that the “welfare system provides such a high level of benefits that it acts as a disincentive for work.”
Not surprisingly, however, neither the theory nor the findings in the report stand up to serious scrutiny. Indeed, as a result of several obvious and truck-sized flaws in the analysis, there is every reason for the report to be quickly ignored and/or discarded by both policymakers and anyone else who cares about basing public policy on facts and rigorous study.
The first and most blatant error in the report is the authors’ enormous exaggeration of the public benefits that most people living in poverty actually receive.
To bolster their case, the authors assume that the “typical welfare family” — which they define as a single mother with two children — receives each of the following services: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), SNAP (formerly known as Food Stamps), WIC (a nutrition program for pregnant and postpartum women and young children), Medicaid, housing assistance, utilities assistance, and emergency food assistance. But this is simply not the case in North Carolina or anywhere else in the United States. The vast majority of poor people do not receive all the services they are eligible for, in part because there are not enough funds to allow that.
A second egregious error is the authors’ gross underestimate of the assistance that families who work but earn low incomes receive.
The authors incorrectly assume that safety net benefits are available only to nonworking families. But again, this is completely untrue. All of the benefits included in the analysis are, in fact available to working families. So it is no surprise that nearly four in 10 SNAP recipients in North Carolina are in working families. In fact, TANF requires work-eligible individuals to participate in work requirements in order to receive benefits at all.
The authors’ analysis also ignores significant changes to the nation’s safety net over the last 30 years. As noted in a recent response to the Cato claims authored by experts at the widely-respected Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, assistance programs are actually designed to offer a lot more support to families who work but earn low wages and far less support to the poorest jobless families with children.Of course, the dark irony in all of this is that by propagating myths about “welfare,” flawed studies like the Cato report serve to undermine public support for important programs that are primarily designed to encourage work by enabling hard working, low-income families to survive.
Unfortunately, what conservatives want to believe is the lie, the myth, the calculated right wing FRAUD about our overstretched and inadequate social safety network. Appropriately, September is Hunger Awareness month, aka Hunger ACTION Month, which should shame and embarrass the conservative members of Congress who have voted to cut food stamp funding, while at the same time giving themselves huge amounts of farm subsidies, as well as plenty of juicy, excessive big Ag subsidies in the farm bill.

As noted in this excerpt of a New York Times article last weeek:
Yet as lawmakers cast the fight in terms of spending, nonpartisan budget analysts and hunger relief advocates warn of a spike in “food insecurity” among Americans who, as Mr. Rigsby said recently, “look like we are fine,” but live on the edge of poverty, skipping meals and rationing food.
Surrounded by corn and soybean farms — including one owned by the local Republican congressman, Representative Stephen Fincher — Dyersburg, about 75 miles north of Memphis, provides an eye-opening view into Washington’s food stamp debate. Mr. Fincher, who was elected in 2010 on a Tea Party wave and collected nearly $3.5 million in farm subsidies from the government from 1999 to 2012, recently voted for a farm bill that omitted food stamps.
“The role of citizens, of Christianity, of humanity, is to take care of each other, not for Washington to steal from those in the country and give to others in the country,” Mr. Fincher, whose office did not respond to interview requests, said after his vote in May. In response to a Democrat who invoked the Bible during the food stamp debate in Congress, Mr. Fincher cited his own biblical phrase. “The one who is unwilling to work shall not eat,” he said.
On Wednesday, the Department of Agriculture released a 2012 survey showing that nearly 49 million Americans were living in “food insecure” households — meaning, in the bureaucratic language of the agency, that some family members lacked “consistent access throughout the year to adequate food.” In short, many Americans went hungry. The agency found the figures essentially unchanged since the economic downturn began in 2008, but substantially higher than during the previous decade.
Experts say the problem is particularly acute in rural regions like Dyersburg, a city of 17,000 on the banks of the Forked Deer River in West Tennessee. More than half the counties with the highest concentration of food insecurity are rural, according to an analysis by Feeding America, the nation’s largest network of food banks. In Dyer County, it found, 19.4 percent of residents were “food insecure” in 2011, compared with 16.4 percent nationwide.
Over all, nearly 48 million Americans now receive food stamps, an $80 billion-a-year program that is increasingly the target of conservatives. Robert Rector, a scholar at the conservative Heritage Foundation, argues that the food stamp program should be overhauled so that benefits are tied to work, much as welfare was revamped under President Bill Clinton. He advocates mandatory drug testing for food stamp recipients — a position that draws support from Mr. Rigsby, who dreams of becoming a game warden and said it irritated him to see people “mooch off the system.”
But when benefits drop in November, the Rigsbys, who say they receive about $350 a month, can expect $29 less.
“People have a lot of misimpressions about hunger in America,” said Maura Daly, a Feeding America spokeswoman. “People think it’s associated with homelessness when, in fact, it is working poor families, it’s kids, it’s the disabled.” Hunger is often invisible, she said, and in rural areas it is even more so.
We have a lot of people who work hard and still starve, including among our military families. We have disabled people, elderly people, and children going hungry, and we have WORKING PEOPLE going hungry, and going without medical care as well.
As noted at the Department of Defense web site in July of this year, when the greedy members of Congress were helping themselves at the public trough, without a legitimate need:
The House action that stripped food stamp funding from a massive farm bill would threaten vital assistance for about 5,000 military families, mostly from the junior enlisted ranks, Pentagon officials said Friday.
A Department of Agriculture report last year showed that more than 5,000 of the 48 million Americans receiving Supplementary Nutritional Assistance Program (food stamps) listed their employment status as “active duty military,” the Pentagon officials said.
In addition, the Defense Commissary Agency reported that food stamps were being redeemed at base commissaries at a record pace.
Last year, $99 million in food stamps were cashed in at bases by military families, disabled vets and others with military identification, and more than $53 million in food stamps were cashed in this year through June, according to Defense Commissary Agency data provided to the Huffington Post.
The concerns over the threat of a food stamp funding cutoff were raised by the 218-208 vote in the House Thursday that passed a $500 billion farm bill that stripped out $80 billion in SNAP funding. It was the first time since 1973 that a farm bill failed to join farm subsidies and food stamp funding.
Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., the House Agriculture Committe chairman, said he would introduce a separate food stamp bill “as soon as I can achieve a consensus,” but consensus could be difficult to reach in the gridlocked Congress.
Facts are not hard to find; but between the deliberate deceptions of right wing sources like the Cato Institute, and the propaganda of right wing politicians, and the willful ignorance of conservatives who go out of their way to give weight to what is not fact, while ignoring what is factual about the social safety network, because for some reason it makes them feel better to think badly of poor people, conservatives hold very, very tightly to false beliefs about the poor, and about assistance.

Shame on them, and an even greater shame on right wing politicians and lying think tank staffers. Greed is ugly, and so is ignorance about our fellow Americans. Next time you see one of our right-wing pocket-lining politicians smile and proclaim how principled they are, how they value life, and especially how they support our troops, look them in the eye and call them liars to their faces. Next time you encounter a conservative whinging on about how the poor don’t work and are moochers, call them out on that lie too.

They could know better, they should know better; their hateful ignorance is a choice, not an accident.

1 comment:

  1. It's about only two things. Giving more money to wealthy congressmen and their clients (not the constituents--screw them) and punishing people who are stupid and lazy enough to be poor.