Falling through the cracks in the food stamp fiasco

When gnawing hunger and bitter cold team up on you:

For days, she had been waiting on a monthly food stamp allotment that should have hit her account on Feb. 7. Every morning since, she called the number on the back of her Electronic Benefit Transfer card to check her balance. Now, with a crippling winter storm bearing down on the Triangle, those calls were getting more frantic.

That same morning, a few miles away, the head of the agency responsible for supervising the state's food stamp program was delivering good news to lawmakers.

As depressing as it might be, take the time to read the whole story. When commenting on politics, we often focus on numbers and statistics and such, but those things represent real people, with very real and often life-threatening situations. At the end of the day, they are why we must continue to fight against the regressive policies of the GOP.


I just noticed the new comment feature

WRAL used to have the (Facebook) comments at the bottom of the story, but now I see it over on the side. And I wish I hadn't seen it. Assholes.

It is amazing to read the comments

and realize this nation is populated with so many intensely mean-spirited folks. I don't understand it.

Stan Bozarth

Understanding what you're up against

The comments at the site are typical. You really have to get past being shocked by how crass and heartless people can be to get at why they feel this way.

Being poor has been seen as a kind of moral failing in America since the Puritans first landed here. Where it really took root in politics was after Johnson's War on Poverty and the Republican response to these programs. With Reagan's embrace of the Religious Right in the 1980s, there's been a steady drumbeat of painting a picture of the poor and working poor as lazy "welfare queens" out to take advantage of the system. It's been backed up by fundamentalist evangelical ministers promoting a "prosperity gospel" philosophy.

It's easy for people to be smug and self-righteous with easy answers like this. The problems of poverty and the working poor are more complex and many folks just don't want to hear about it.

Often, the need for someone to take public assistance is based on circumstance - bad health, loosing a job due to a layoff, or a family situation. Yes, there are a comparatively few people out there that might be on public assistance for most or all of their lives. If you actually pay attention to them, they're not lazy con artists, but suffer from mental health issues or other problems that just can't be solved by "working harder".

The Republicans have spent almost fifty years bullshitting the American public, painting poverty and unemployment as a kind of moral "us against them", zero-sum game. They've portrayed the poor and working poor as leeches, tearing at the moral fabric of the country, taking from "us", and being "dependent" on "us" to fund their laziness.

The irony, of course, is that cutting or eliminating public assistance costs much more in the long run. It keeps people who would be productive in society from getting the "leg up" they need to succeed with education, basic food and housing, or the chance at a job. It becomes a sinkhole of money that has to be covered by local governments or charities through programs for immediate needs like food, housing and health care; drives up the cost of health care for everyone when the poor wind up in emergency rooms; and puts a drag on the economy with fewer qualified people in the workforce, spending to keep the economy going.

Seeing poverty as a moral failing is something very deep-set in parts of the US with a strong evangelical base. I don't think you can change the minds of people like this.


And everyone of those passing judgement has an example or two they can cite as evidence that they're right, examples of fraudulent claims or misrepresentations. They ignore the 98% of people who are playing by the rules and just can't dig out.

They also ignore the fact that many of the most egregious examples of fraud are actually businesses who are systematically scamming the system by exploiting their employees.


And what they don't recognize is that actual fraud and abuse makes up only a very small percentage of benefit programs. With more stringent regulations about id and such in recent years, along with electronic record keeping, is making this type of activity rarer.

Even Reagan's famous "welfare queen" wasn't just about someone scamming welfare and driving around a Cadillac - this was a very disturbed con artist who committed multiple murders and ripped off many people throughout her life. Her welfare scams were just a very small part of her criminal activities.

Slate did a full write up on Reagan's "welfare queen" awhile back - it's worth reading and sharing if you've not seen it before. The lesson to take away from the story is that it wasn't a failure of the welfare system, but a breakdown in the police and justice system that let a con artist and murderer go free.

But who cares about the real story when there's a few political points to be scored about the morality of being poor?

What is shameful here

Is how a wealthy,powerful nation like ours can't find the political will to take on the problem of poverty in our own population. It is an embarrassment that our citizens can't comprehend that and even more so the way our politician address the issue.

We can help the "problem of poverty"

The problem of poverty can be solved with a heavy investment by government into a solution along with the poor and the communities being included in their own escape from the bonds of what has become a type of enslavement. Even though America appears to be an extremely wealthy nation, we cannot lose sight of the fact that our government borrows $.40 of every $1.00 it spends. Wealth is relative. Yes, we as a nation can afford the interest payments on this borrowed money. And yes, we as a nation can probably afford to incur more debt and pay the interest. But, all of the shame cannot be put on government. As a nation, we need to have a different direction that sees us building up and supporting those that are suffering from wealth inequality because of race and position in life. Unless these things are solved, government that is funded almost entirely by taxpayers will be tasked with supporting those that can not support themselves for various reasons. That is the challenge. We have to change the philosophy that having a financial safety net is the solution to widespread poverty and indigence. That is only treating the symptom and not solving the problem.

There are some things we can do that cost nothing

Policies that favor the wealthy have pulled sway for too long. Just the incarceration of young men of color for drug related crimes is crushing parts of society. Admit the drug war has failed.

Protect the environment over powerful multinational interests. Environmental justice has failed.

Use the Robinhood tax to fund a renaissance of our energy grid and conservation efforts.

Without adding 1 cent to our debt.

I have always loved the Robinhood tax idea

1/2 of 1% on all Wall Street transactions. The article you posted said it will bring in many billions but I can see it bringing in a trillion. What a wonderful idea. So, why won't it see any traction in congress? I know it is easy to say that it is because of the rich republicans in congress that are funded by Wall Street entities. But, republicans aren't the only ones getting a big share of the political contributions from Wall Street. And, like it or not, almost all of the national legislators we have in office in D.C. today are wealthy and have interests that Wall Street types control. I would love to see that put on a national referendum. I know how that would come out, don't you?

If it ever did get put into law, I would like to make sure there was a provision that the additional revenue received could not be used for new entitlement programs and only used for programs that are put in place to create jobs and opportunities for those in our society that lack an opportunity for higher education and/or job-skills training. The last thing we need right now is more taxation just to expand a never-ending social safety net.

I agree about the ever expanding safety net

Maybe we could take a play from the Grover Norquist play book and make Democrats pledge to support it like he makes R's sign it to reject taxes in any form. What do you think?

I understand

I'm not a fan of pledges and promises from politicians. I've seen too many of those folks go back on their word far too many times. I want to make sure you don't think I'm anti-social safety net loftT. That was not the intention or meaning of what I said here. There is no substitute for government being there for those that need help. But, I agree with James here when he said that sometimes what is being ignored is the 98% of people who are playing by the rules and just can't dig out. These people want to succeed. They WANT to dig out. They want a chance. They don't want to just live through government assistance despite what the republicans say. What I think we have gone to far too much is helping to make sure these folks have what is barely necessary in their lives rather than curing the economic illness in our country that caused them to get to that point in the first place.

Because of that, if we were to receive that 1/2 of 1% from Wall Street dealings, I would like to see those additional funds spent SPECIFICALLY on efforts and programs that will give these people the necessary "shovels" to help them dig themselves out of poverty and despair. In the mean time, the safety net programs set up currently serve these people well. I understand the necessity of them and am an advocate for maintaining their integrity.

Government inaction is the biggest problem

The social safety net has expanded and contracted over the decades since its creation, but that flux has a lot more to do with the economy than any other factor. Our current recession, which has seen a huge increase in those seeking help from "entitlement" programs, is the direct result of government placing too much trust in the one-percenters.

We cut their taxes and we stripped away regulations that had been in place for a long time, and, as a result, they destroyed some $60 trillion in accumulated wealth (our wealth) world-wide. They came out smelling like a rose, but the rest of us saw our savings pissed away and our jobs disappear.

Before we can even dream of lifting people out of poverty via economic opportunities, we must get a grip on those who control the country's wealth. We still allow (and even encourage) corporations to gobble up their competition, putting a small number of board members in control of entire sectors. We still haven't put back in place the firewalls that kept insurance companies from acting like banks, or banks from acting like junk bond dealers. Instead of investing in established businesses and/or start-ups, the people holding the money can continue to invest large sums in dubious activities that involve nothing more than loan-swapping back and forth or betting against yourself. And we let them do it because we're not smart enough to figure out they're not smart enough to do it safely.

Until we get that fixed, our social safety net will continue to expand, and it doesn't have a damned thing to do with "tricking" people into the wrong path, or whatever other free-market bs leaks into the debate.