Thursday, February 11, 2010

Flip Flop

Greetings good citizen,

After opening in negative territory the markets have swung positive for the afternoon session. One can only guess the upswing in equities is being credited to the drop in new claims for unemployment.

Naturally, one week’s improvement does not a ‘reversal’ (never mind a recovery) make…and yes good citizen it has been two long, tiresome years (actually it’s been a lot longer than that if you’re a member of the under-served, forgotten and largely unemployed ‘working class’.)

While there were less new claims we are still a long way from adding more jobs to the economy than are being lost. Even though the president’s new budget ‘assumes’ the economy will grow at roughly 2 percent. The projected 95,000 jobs a month created by this growth clearly won’t be enough to offset the 150,000 jobs per month necessary just to stay ahead of population growth.

Which means our economy needs to grow faster than 2 percent annually.

But that is not the topic of tonight’s offering , where we look at a basic component of the US economic safety net and wonder how long they can keep on handing out these vouchers?

Once Stigmatized, Food Stamps Find Acceptance

Published: February 10, 2010

A decade ago, New York City officials were so reluctant to give out food stamps, they made people register one day and return the next just to get an application. The welfare commissioner said the program caused dependency and the poor were “better off” without it. [This ‘attitude’ was widespread during the ‘Clinton Boom’ better known as the ‘dot.gone’ bust, when internet start-ups were selling for crazy prices and none of them had any profits to speak of. But that was due to ‘other’ imbalances in an economy that was chock full of illusions as the globalization crowd raped and pillaged with impunity.]

With millions of jobs lost and major industries on the ropes, America’s array of government aid — including unemployment insurance, food stamps and cash welfare — is being tested as never before. This series examines how the safety net is holding up under the worst economic crisis in decades. [Our pal Bill put an end to welfare by pointing to jobs that didn’t actually exist in the magical land of IT…jobs that went ‘poof’ with the stillborn ‘internet economy’.]

Now the city urges the needy to seek aid (in languages from Albanian to Yiddish). Neighborhood groups recruit clients at churches and grocery stores, with materials that all but proclaim a civic duty to apply — to “help New York farmers, grocers, and businesses.” There is even a program on Rikers Island to enroll inmates leaving the jail.

“Applying for food stamps is easier than ever,” city posters say. [Why do you suppose that is good citizen? Haven’t I said right along that civilization is only nine meals deep? I’ll assume that they haven’t encountered any shortages (yet) but it sure looks like the boobs running this show are ‘tap dancing on a landmine’ just as fast as they dare!]

The same is true nationwide. After a U-turn in the politics of poverty, food stamps, a program once scorned as “welfare,” enjoys broad new support. Following deep cuts in the 1990s, Congress reversed course to expand eligibility, cut red tape and burnish the program’s image, with a special effort to enroll the working poor. These changes, combined with soaring unemployment, have pushed enrollment to record highs, with one in eight Americans now getting aid. [Um, maybe it’s just me but I have a difficult time turning the pauperization of our nation into a ‘good thing’…]

“I’ve seen a remarkable shift,” said Senator Richard G. Lugar, an Indiana Republican and prominent food stamp supporter. “People now see that it’s necessary to have a strong food stamp program.” [It’s idiot statements like this which makes one question the definition of the word 'people', just as we do with the Declaration of Independence. Who, exactly, are they referring to when they use the term ‘We, the people’…because they obviously weren’t referring to Native Americans, women, slaves or the indentured servants.]

The revival began a decade ago, after tough welfare laws chased millions of people from the cash rolls, many into low-wage jobs as fast-food workers, maids, and nursing aides. Newly sympathetic officials saw food stamps as a way to help them. For states, the program had another appeal: the benefits are federally paid. [Isn’t this just a strategy to suppress wages via Federal handouts? The chiseling bastards did this KNOWING the people forced off of welfare couldn’t survive on the minimum wages jobs they were being forced to take…]

But support also turned on chance developments, including natural disasters (which showed the program’s value in emergencies) and the rise of plastic benefit cards (which eased stigma and fraud). The program has commercial allies, in farmers and grocery stores, and it got an unexpected boost from President George W. Bush, whose food stamp administrator, Eric Bost, proved an ardent supporter.

“I assure you, food stamps is not welfare,” Mr. Bost said in a recent interview. [Ironically no, it is a form of insurance used to keep the starving hoards at bay, without food stamps (or some similar program) the streets would already be red with blood from coast to coast.]

Still, some critics see it as welfare in disguise and advocate more restraints. [Not everyone that opposes handout programs is a flinty hearted capitalist. The very existence of these programs demonstrates the need for radical social change.]

So far their voices have been muted, unlike in the 1990s when Republican members of Congress likened permissive welfare laws to feeding alligators and wolves. But last month, a Republican candidate for governor in South Carolina, Andre Bauer, criticized food stamps by saying his grandmother “told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed.”

Mr. Bauer, the lieutenant governor, apologized for his phrasing but said, “somebody has to have the gumption to talk about the cycle of dependency.” [This is what the nimrods who fail to recognize that ‘free markets’ don’t create enough jobs for all that need them end up spouting. Such remarks stem from their willful ignorance and displays a disturbing blind spot in our educational system!]

The drive to enroll the needy can be seen in the case of Monica Bostick-Thomas, 45, a Harlem widow who works part-time as a school crossing guard. Since her husband died three years ago, she has scraped by on an annual income of about $15,000.

But she did not seek help until she got a call from the Food Bank of New York City, one of the city’s outreach partners. Last year, she balked, doubting she qualified. This year, when the group called again, she agreed to apply. A big woman with a broad smile, Ms. Bostick-Thomas swept into the group’s office a few days later, talking up her daughters’ college degrees and bemoaning the cost of oxtail meat.

“I’m not saying I go hungry,” Ms. Bostick-Thomas said. “But I can’t always eat what I want.”

The worker projected a benefit of $147 a month. “That’s going to help!” she said. “I wouldn’t have gone and applied on my own.”

Since its founding in 1964, the food stamp program has swung between seasons of bipartisan support and conservative attack. George McGovern, a Democrat, and Bob Dole, a Republican, were prominent Senate backers. But Ronald Reagan told stories about the “strapping young buck” who used food stamps to buy a “T-bone steak.” [Anyone who knows how food stamps work also knows ‘the Gipper’ lied through his teeth on that one! Each voucher spells out EXACTLY what it is for, right down to the brand name.]

By the 1990s, the program was swept up in President Bill Clinton’s pledge to “end welfare.” While he meant cash aid, Congressional Republicans labeled food stamps welfare, too. The 1996 law that restricted cash benefits included major cuts in food stamps benefits and eligibility. Some states went further and pushed eligible people away. [But they aren’t doing that anymore, are they?]

But as attention shifted to poor workers, food stamps won new support. Wisconsin’s former governor, Tommy G. Thompson, a Republican, boasted of cutting the cash rolls, but advertised the food stamp rise. “Leading the Way to Make Work Pay,” a 2000 news release said.

States eased limits on people with cars and required fewer office visits from people with jobs. The federal government now gives bonuses to states that enroll the most eligible people. [At what point do we have too much of a ‘good thing’? How many bags of food equal a tank of gas…or a bus voucher? It’s just another excuse not to pay you what you’re worth!]

A self-reinforcing cycle kicked in: outreach attracted more workers, and workers built support for outreach. In a given month, nearly 90 percent of food stamp recipients still have incomes below the federal poverty line, according to the Department of Agriculture. But among families with children, the share working rose to 47 percent in 2008, from 26 percent in the mid-1990s, and the share getting cash welfare fell by two-thirds. [Don’t suppose this accounts for the people who are living on food stamps alone?]

In 2008, the program got an upbeat new name: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — SNAP. By contrast, cash welfare remains stigmatized, and the rolls have scarcely budged.

Nowhere have attitudes swung as far as in New York City, where Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani and his welfare commissioner, Jason A. Turner, laid siege in the late 1990s to what they called the welfare capital of the world. After bitter fights, a federal judge made the city end delays in handing out food stamp applications. But attitudes remained stern.

“I count food stamps as being part of welfare,” Mr. Turner said at the time. “You’re better off without either one.” [Being a Republican pretty much explains this ignorant point of view, how are these people supposed to support themselves in a society that has no use for them?]

Since Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg took office eight years ago, the rolls have doubled, to 1.6 million people, with most of the increase coming in his second term after critics accused him of neglecting the poor.

He intensified outreach. He reduced paperwork. He hired a new welfare commissioner, Robert Doar, with orders to improve service for the working poor.

“If you’re working, I want to help you, and that’s how the mayor feels,” Mr. Doar said.

Albany made a parallel push to enroll the working poor, setting an explicit goal for caseload growth. “This is all federal money — it drives dollars to local economies,” said Russell Sykes, a senior program official.

But Mr. Turner, now a consultant in Milwaukee, warns that the aid encourages the poor to work less and therefore remain in need. “It’s going to be very difficult with large swaths of the lower middle class tasting the fruits of dependency to be weaned from this,” he said. [Um, like most of us have a damn choice as to when or how long we are required to work! You stay until they say go and like it, otherwise you don’t keep the damn job!]

The tension between self-reliance and relief can be seen at the food bank’s office in Harlem, where the city lets outreach workers file applications.

Juan Diego Castro, 24, is a college graduate and Americorps volunteer whose immigrant parents warned him “not to be a burden on this country.” He has a monthly stipend of about $2,500 and initially thought food stamps should go to needier people, like the tenants he organizes. “My concern was if I’m taking food stamps and I have a job, is it morally correct?” he said. [Is this a ‘blindspot’ in our education or a gaping hole in our collective understanding of why people belong to a society?]

But federal law eases eligibility for Americorps members, and a food bank worker urged him and fellow volunteers to apply, arguing that there was enough aid to go around and that use would demonstrate continuing need. “That meeting definitely turned us around,” Mr. Castro said.

While Mr. Castro seemed contemplative, Alba Catano, 44, appeared dejected. A Colombian immigrant, she has spent a dozen years on a night janitorial crew but fell and missed three months of work after knee surgery. [How much do you want to bet she hasn’t seen a nickel in workman’s comp?]

Last November, she limped into a storefront church in Queens, where a food bank worker was taking applications beside the pews.

About her lost wages, she struck a stoic pose, saying her san cocho — Colombian soup — had less meat and more plantains. But her composure cracked when she talked of the effect on her 10-year-old daughter.

“My refrigerator is empty,” Ms. Catano said.

Last month, Ms. Catano was back at work, with a benefit of $170 a month and no qualms about joining 38 million Americans eating with government aid. “I had the feeling that working people were not eligible,” she said. “But then they told me, ‘No, no, the program has improved.’ ”

I don’t know how many of you remember when Joe made the point in one of his podcasts (I believe this was before he started doing live radio.) He pointed out that employers had a way of turning your tax break into their income. Food stamp programs provide employers with another way of …short-sheeting you.

It doesn’t matter if you know that you qualify for food stamps/assistance, you an bet your bottom dollar your chiseling employer knows! You can also rest assured that he automatically ‘assumes’ you are drawing benefits! So when raise time rolls around, they don’t feel the slightest bit guilty when they don’t give you a raise…what the hell, you’re getting food stamps!

Totally lost here is the fact that you’re getting food stamps because bobo isn’t paying you a living wage! Where does this nonsense stop? The bad news…it doesn’t.

It won’t stop until we put an end to the ability of others to determine how much we are worth to them. This is the wrong question and nobody should be allowed to ‘decide’, especially when that ability is tied directly to their own ongoing prosperity…

You get food stamps while they get lavish vacations two or more times a year, oh and the company picks up THEIR healthcare cost, AND their retirement plan…sucks being you!

You are being provided ‘sustenance’ so you won’t riot…but when you take a hard look at what’s going on…you should…riot that is!

Why, you might ask? Your, er, long-term reliance on food stamps is the first step towards a standard of living people living in a banana republic are subjected to. It starts with handouts, then the handouts get too ‘expensive’ and they start cutting back.

And NOBODY ever remembers it all started because the cheapskates refused to pay you a living wage!

Is there an ‘insidious message’ lying behind this ‘feel good’ article on how a large segment of our society is receiving ‘food assistance’?

Yes, and the message is ‘going down’.

We can’t afford to be innocent. Stand up and face the enemy! It truly is a ‘do or die’ situation…

Thanks for letting me inside your head,


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