Saturday, December 29, 2012

Some Are More Poor Than Others

   I've been on welfare before here in California. A couple of times. Here it's called General Relief, or GR. The process was relatively simple. You go to the office of the Department of Public Social Services, or DPSS, get in a line, fill out some papers, and basically wait all day. Eventually you get your picture taken and thumb printed. They will give you emergency food stamps if required and a voucher for a place to sleep that night, again if needed.
   In a week or two you come back and attend a mandatory orientation meeting for the GROW program. General Relief Opportunity for Work, a welfare to work program. You are told that you must seek work for as long as you receive GR benefits, which is fine, you want to find work because life on GR is somewhat... restrictive. You receive something like $226 a month, plus about $110 in food stamps. There is no housing assistance for the homeless. In other words life isn't exactly a bowl of cherries. 
   You are given a form to fill out and return every month which tracks the places you sought employment. You will not receive benefits unless that form is turned in on time. There is what I call a forced work requirement, of 10 or 15 hours or so. I worked here downtown at the Hall of Records, performing various menial tasks.
   This was a major change in welfare benefits due to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), which was part of President Clinton's Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (which promised to "end Welfare as we know it" which doesn't mean anything really, does it, and may not necessarily be a good thing), the title of which is insulting to those seeking assistance due to a situation that was most likely no fault of their own, the name implying those on welfare are not responsible.
   That's pretty funny considering Washington allowed Wall Street to go wild and wreck the economy, sending the nation into a recession, which caused national unemployment to skyrocket, then when people couldn't find work they are considered slackers and irresponsible for being out of work by the government that was so irresponsible it allowed the nation to go into recession to begin with.
   This perception is perpetuated into the general populace (like the nonexistent "Welfare Queen" of Ronald Reagan) as the 3rd picture above indicates. Well what I have to say to people who agree with the sentiment of that picture: Quit working and stop paying taxes if you feel so strongly about it. You guys more than likely identify as being Christian as well, except when it comes to actually providing assistance to others in need... all talk... no walk. There are hundreds of things I don't like paying for with my taxes. I don't like paying for unnecessary wars. I don't like paying money to Exxon in the form of corporate subsidies. I don't like paying taxes for drone strikes that kill innocent children, and women, and families in Yemen and Pakistan. Unfortunately I don't get to pick and choose where my tax money goes to. And neither do you, so just quit bitching and shut the hell up!
   But I digress.
   States are allowed to set their own welfare limits and qualifications within guidelines set by the TANF program, and paid for jointly by the state and federal government.
   Pretty much the same qualifying routine goes with unemployment benefits which I've also received on occasion when I was eligible (laid off). You receive a cash amount tied to a percentage of what your income was before you lost your job. The amount of time you can receive unemployment payments varies from state to state (chart above). Unemployment insurance is a federal-state program jointly financed through federal and state employer payroll taxes. The Internal Revenue Service collects unemployment taxes from employers which are then returned to the state for administration and dispersal.
      So it's up to each state to administer their own welfare and unemployment programs within certain federal guidelines which provides states with a broad latitude in which they are free to set their own rules on time limits, grant levels, and work requirements for those seeking help. In other words each state can make it as easy or difficult as they wish to grant assistance to those who qualify.
   Here in Los Angeles you can receive GR payments for 9 months out of the year. After a 3 month period of no payments, said payments can be resumed for another 9 months.
   In California you may receive a maximum of 73 weeks of unemployment benefits after which you get nothing... unless... those benefits are extended under special circumstances, such as recession.
   In Georgia, they inexplicably elected a Republican as governor, who of course immediately waged war on the states welfare recipients.  The states poverty rate ranks 6th in th nation, with 300,000 families living below the poverty line ($23,050 a year for a family of 4), yet only 7%, 19,000 families receive TANF assistance.
   "New applicants soon found themselves being handed flyers emblazoned with slogans like "TANF is not good enough for any family," "TANF = work now," and "We believe welfare is not the best option for your family."
   WTF?! If I needed a lecture I'd go to my girlfriend's house.
   "Local offices were really taking a lot of steps to dissuade people from applying—or once they had applied, they were doing things to make the process really cumbersome and difficult," recalls Allison Smith of the Georgia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, whose office began documenting troubling reports of welfare applicants being discouraged from applying for benefits by any and all means necessary: "Making them go through 60 job searches a week, or come to 8 orientations." One woman in her seventh month of pregnancy was ordered to take a waitressing job that would require her to be on her feet all day. Another was told that if she applied for TANF while living in a shelter her children would be taken away. Smith recalls, "Some of the stuff that was said to individuals was pretty awful—'If you can't find a job, we'll have you shoveling shit at the dog pound.' "
   Thanks to Neil deMause for this info. Here's his article:
   Why would the Governor of Georgia, Nathan Deal, set this policy? He's a Baptist, and therefore should follow the teachings of Christ.
   "Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.'"Matthew 25:34-36 
   Because he's a Christian in name only, and a contemporary Republican, which by definition means nasty, political, asshole, sociopath.
   He is using and spreading the perception that welfare recipients are lazy, no good, deadbeat, freeloading parasites on society... Romney's 47%. He is demanding that those in need get jobs before welfare when there are no jobs. He's a dick, and he's working against his own, and his states best interest, and those that elected him (the first Republican governor in Georgia since the end of the Civil War) are getting what they voted for.
   You see there's a reason we have these social safety nets... welfare and unemployment insurance, and food stamps, etc. It's because it's the right thing to do (I'm not Christian, and even I know that).
   But beyond that simple fact, these programs keep people out of poverty, and they inject money into the economy. These programs act as a stimulus to the economy, locally (as in a state like Georgia) and nationally. People who receive welfare and unemployment don't stash that money into bank accounts like the wealthy do with tax breaks. They spend it, they buy things immediately. They pay bills. They buy food, they pay their rent.
   Food Stamps for example have been determined to be the best economic stimulus that there is. For every dollar spent on that program $1.73 is generated throughout the economy.
   Economist Mark Zandi: "If someone who is literally living paycheck to paycheck gets an extra dollar, it's very likely that they will spend that dollar immediately on whatever they need - groceries, to pay the telephone bill, to pay the electric bill."
   Tracking that dollar spent through the economic chain shows what economists call the ripple effect, Zandi said. That dollar spent at the supermarket helps pay the salary of the person at the cash register, which helps to pay the people who haul the food to the store, which lastly goes to pay the farmer who produced whatever it was you bought.
   A similar result goes for unemployment benefits. For every dollar spent here, the economy would see a return of $1.64.
   Think of it as a business investment. For every dollar invested you get a 64% profit. That's a pretty good deal.
   What's the alternative, the road on which Georgia's Governor has decided to take?
   Instead of stimulating their economy, they are depressing it by sending more people into poverty, which drain the local resources of entities such as emergency medical care facilities, jails, food banks, churches... on and on
   Republicans can't seem to get this through their tiny little heads.
   Their not very bright.
   Guess what? If the Republicans don't pass some kind of spending/revenue deal to avoid the so-called fiscal cliff by next Tuesday, 2.1 million unemployment recipients will lose their benefits.
   At least House Republicans have their priorities right. They weren't able to pass Speaker Bohner's Plan B compromise bill, but they were able to pass a measure diverting the cliff's automatic spending cuts from the defense budget to domestic programs. More bombs, fewer jobs.
   Do I feel bad about receiving the help I got? Nope.
   The money did what it was supposed to do. It helped me get buy until I was able to get a job and back onto my own two and a half feet. It kept me out of poverty as a drain on society.
   And when I was able to... I paid it back.

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