There was another item in the news this morning about Congressional Republicans’ efforts to “trim” food stamps. The stated reason is to reduce government expenditures without raising taxes.
My husband noted that calling something a “reduction in benefits” doesn’t change the fact that the target of the measure has less money to spend at the grocery. Substantively, the food stamp recipient has been taxed.
This willingness to “reduce benefits” to avoid calling something a tax raises an inconvenient question. Oil companies–which have been massively profitable of late–enjoy generous federal subsidies. If the GOP doesn’t want to tax those they have labeled “job creators,” why not simply reduce their benefits?
Evidently, in the reality occupied by these Congressmen, reducing corporate welfare for big oil is a “tax” to be avoided at all costs, but reducing social welfare for poor children is just budgetary prudence.
I guess it all depends on what your definition of a “tax” is.
This past weekend, the LA Times and the Northwest Indiana Times both had stories about Mitch Daniel’s privatization initiatives.
The Northwest Indiana article reported on the impending default of the private operator of the Indiana Toll Road. While a default would probably not cost Indiana taxpayers–the private operator paid us in advance–it might well cost us what little control we retained over the Toll Road, and depending upon how the default played out, might require some legal fees.
The LA Times article, on the other hand, was the sort of in-depth reporting that has become all too rare nationally, and virtually non-existent here in Indianapolis. It traced the disaster that was Indiana’s effort to contract out welfare intake, and it is well worth reading in its entirety. High points include a description of ACS ties to Indiana political figures and “movers and shakers”–especially Stephen Goldsmith, Mitch Roob and the Barnes Thornburgh law firm–together with a list of associated campaign contributions, and several examples of the harm done to vulnerable elderly and disabled people who depended on the program.
The Star did do several stories early on, when the failures of IBM and ACS were at their most glaring, and again when Daniels admitted defeat and pulled IBM’s (but not ACS’) contract. And it ran a story when IBM sued the state. But there was no effort to “connect the dots” and nothing even close to the comprehensive investigation provided by the LA Times.
That lack of a full picture matters, because without it, reporters fail to recognize the context within which we must understand related information.
A couple of weeks ago, the Daniels Administration announced that it had received an award from the federal government for cutting the food stamp program’s negative error rate–how often cases are incorrectly closed or denied. The Administration bragged that Indiana’s error rate was below the national average. The Star dutifully reported the (accurate) claim. What didn’t get reported was the fact that from 2001 to 2007–prior to welfare privatization–Indiana’s error rate had also been below the national average, but in 2008, one year after IBM and ACS took over, the error rate had more than doubled, to 13%. It was the largest increase in the country, and the celebrated “improvement” was measured from that high point.
Context matters. So does journalism.
The more we see of Paul Ryan’s “innovative” budget proposal, the more mean-spirited it gets.
Take Food Stamps–another target for “savings.” According to Meteor Blades over at Daily Kos, Ryan would change food stamp dollars to block grants, which would be funded at only 80 percent of the current level of spending. “That means cuts of $127 billion between now and 2021. To achieve that would require dropping millions of low-income Americans from SNAP rolls or cutting their benefits or some combination of both. Ryan doesn’t specify. This “reform”—astonishing what gets that label these days—would also impose new restrictions on recipients, including time limits on how long they would be eligible to receive food stamps.”
We are just beginning to emerge from the most significant economic downturn since the Great Depression. Thousands and thousands of hardworking, taxpaying Americans lost jobs and home, and a significant number of people who had always been self-sustaining found themselves on food stamps. Their needs, however, cannot compete with the need to protect the Bush tax cuts for the top 2% of earners.
Ryan’s defenders will claim that these historically low tax rates will generate investment and translate into jobs. The evidence against that is overwhelming and compelling.
This is really an effort to dismantle the remnants of our already dangerously frayed social safety net–by self-proclaimed “Christians” who have no understanding of their own religion’s teachings, and no empathy for anyone who doesn’t look just like them. And it is unforgivable.