Tag Archives: Welfare

The Real Welfare Recipients

What do you notice about the majority of states on this list that receive the most federal funding? Yup, they are some of the reddest states in the country.

The top freeloading state in the union in 2005 was New Mexico. Reading the State of New Mexico’s Wikipedia page confirmed my guess as to why they receive such government largesse:

Federal government spending is a major driver of the New Mexico economy. In 2005 the federal government spent $2.03 on New Mexico for every dollar of tax revenue collected from the state. This rate of return is higher than any other state in the Union.[15] The federal government is also a major employer in New Mexico providing more than a quarter of the state’s jobs.

Many of the federal jobs relate to the military; the state hosts three air force bases (Kirtland Air Force Base, Holloman Air Force Base, and Cannon Air Force Base); a testing range (White Sands Missile Range); and an army proving ground and maneuver range (Fort Bliss – McGregor Range).

In addition to the National Guard, New Mexico has a New Mexico State Defense Force. Other minor locations include the New Mexico Army National Guard Headquarters in Santa Fe county and the National Guard Armory in far northern Rio Rancho in Sandoval county.

Other federal installations include national observatories and the technology labs of Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) and Sandia National Laboratories (SNL). SNL conducts electronic and industrial research on Kirtland AFB, on the southeast side of Albuquerque. These installations also include the missile and spacecraft proving grounds at White Sands. Other federal agencies such as the National Park Service, the United States Forest Service, and the United States Bureau of Land Management are a big part of the state’s rural employment base.

They are awash with military installations and little green men.

The funny thing about this is New Mexico is the state of Gary Johnson, a man who has become the second-biggest Libertarian hero behind Ron Paul. During his stint as governor, Johnson slashed state spending and balanced the budget. He gained a national following, generally among small government types, as a symbol of fiscally responsible leadership.

I suppose small government is not possible without large government.

The second biggest recipient on the list is the poorest state in the country, Mississippi. Their standing as number 2 in 2005 is probably due to Hurricane Katrina.

The home of Sarah Palin, Alaska, is the third biggest mooching state on the list. Alaska has a wealth of natural resources. Their oil and gas companies depend upon a healthy stream of federal funds to drill for more. A 2010 article outlines Alaska’s love affair with federal money:

Each person in Alaska receives approximately $20,351 in federal funds each year. Compare that amount with Nevada residents who receive only $7.14 per year.  The large amount of federal funds that go to Alaska allow them to go without a state income or sales tax.  Besides a generous amount of federal dollars for defense spending within the state, the state also receives a disproportionate amount of federal subsidies for oil and gas exploration.  Many Alaskan residents actually receive a yearly check, which comes from the massive revenue generated from Alaska’s oil and gas reserves.  Some would argue that far from being “independent,” the state actually is heavily dependent on the federal government it so maligns.

Wow, it seems that Alaska is one giant den of welfare recipients. Is this the independent and can-do American spirit that Sarah Palin spoke so much about on the 2008 campaign trail?

Louisiana was the fourth state on the list. Just like Mississippi, Hurricane Katrina seems to account for its standing in 2005.

West Virginia rounds out the top 5. One beneficiary of federal funds seems to be the coal industry:

In reality, the coal industry is heavily subsidized by the federal and state governments, enjoying explicit subsidies of billions of dollars a year, plus the indirect subsidy of free pollution that costs the United States 10,000 lives a year, destroys the land and water of mining communities, and destabilizes our climate. In September 2009, the Environmental Law Institute identified coal industry “subsidies of around $17 billion between 2002 and 2008”.

So, taking a look at 3 of the top 5 states who benefit the most from federal tax dollars, we get a picture of who the biggest welfare recipients are in the United States: the military-industrial complex and polluters.

And who pays those federal taxes? It certainly is not the wealthiest corporations who, thanks to loopholes and the Bush Tax Cuts, pay absolutely nothing. No, it is you and I, the working people of this country who fund imperialist war and environmental degradation.

What do 4 of these 5 states have in common? Take a look at this map and see for yourself:

Just a word about the only blue state, New Mexico:

The key voting bloc in this state is Hispanics, which makes up a plurality of the state’s total population with 45%. George W. Bush enjoyed good popularity with Hispanic voters and received over 40% of the Hispanic vote nationally in 2004. As a result, Bush had the ability to nip John Kerry by approximately 6,000 votes in New Mexico in 2004. In the previous election, New Mexico had been a very close swing state. Al Gore won the state by only 300 votes in 2000, which was even narrower than the controversial results in Florida. However, after the 2004 presidential election, support for Bush in the Hispanic community collapsed. During the 2008 election, New Mexico was regarded as an Obama-leaning state despite the fact that John McCain was from neighboring Arizona and held similar views on illegal immigration to those of Bush. Ultimately, McCain was only able to obtain 30% of the Hispanic vote.

The Republican base in New Mexico consists of the more rural southeastern part of the state which, while thinly populated, votes heavily Republican. Democrats are strongest in the state capital, Santa Fe and its close-in suburbs. The city of Albuquerque and the southwestern part of the state are also Democratic, but to a far lesser extent. On a larger context, Southern New Mexico is typically more Republican while Northern New Mexico is traditionally more Democratic, while Albuquerque and other areas in the center tend to swing both ways.

There are 4 major military bases in New Mexico. And where are 3 of the 4 bases located? That’s right, in the southeastern (Republican) part of New Mexico: Curry and Otero counties. The reddest parts of the state are the biggest beneficiaries of federal largesse.

And the states that receive the least bang for their tax buck are: New Jersey, Nevada, Connecticut, New Hampshire and Minnesota. And what do all of these states have in common? Take a look again:

So the bluest states in the United States subsidize the reddest states.

And yet, the reddest politicians rail against government handouts and how those handouts destroy the individualist spirit of the country.

They certainly do, just not for the reasons they imply.

Speaking of American tradition, 3 of the 5 states who subsidize all of this welfare are from the oldest (eastern) parts of the country.

And the two largest welfare recipients? From the youngest (western) part of the country.

There is your American tradition.

The political narrative in this country has been stood on its head.

The Spectre of Poverty

Bill Clinton ended “welfare as we knew it” in 1996. He did this by signing into law a program that replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program with Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

According to Friday’s article in The Nation, under TANF:

“States were given wide discretion to determine eligibility, benefit levels and time limits, and the TANF block grant was also frozen at the 1996 level without being indexed to inflation so those dollars don’t go as far now. A majority of states now provide benefits at less than 30 percent of the poverty line (about $5,200 annually for a family of three), and benefits are below half the poverty line in every state.”

The thinking was that by throwing people off the welfare rolls and sending them out into the work force, they would be required to sink or swim. Those that stayed on the welfare rolls would have to do some sort of work to earn their benefits for the limited time the new law allowed them to collect. This was touted as a way to train people on welfare for the world of work.

It is tough to see how mopping hallways and cleaning streets prepares anyone for the world of work. It is symbolic of the twisted way we view poverty. We just assume that people in need are immoral drug addicts with bad values. Putting mops in their hands would show them what an honest day’s work would look like.

Having people do menial work in return for less than the bare necessities of life and human dignity is tantamount to slavery. The whole working for welfare to train people for the real world idea sounds an awful like what planters in the American south said about slavery. In this view, Africans and their descendants would learn civilization under the slave system. The slave owners were benevolent patriarchs, teaching their charges about how to live in white society.

Since welfare reform, life for the poor, especially poor women and children, has taken a turn for the worse. We refuse to revisit our decision because both parties have touted welfare reform as a success. They were touting it as a success even before the law was enacted. Clinton had vetoed similar versions of welfare reform twice before signing it the third time on the eve of his reelection bid. The economy was doing well, Republicans controlled Congress and welfare reform had become a timely and popular measure. Much like everything Clinton did, it was a political calculation.

So we signed the law, patted ourselves on the back and have lived in the delusion that welfare reform was a success ever since. It has been a success, if the goal was to merely kick people off of welfare:

“Prior to welfare reform, 68 of every 100 poor families with children received cash assistance through AFDC. By 2010, just 27 of every 100 poor families received TANF assistance.”

What about how welfare reform “improved” poverty:

“A stunning report released by the University of Michigan’s National Poverty Center reveals that the number of US households living on less than $2 per person per day—a standard used by the World Bank to measure poverty in developing nations—rose by 130 percent between 1996 and 2011, from 636,000 to 1.46 million. The number of children living in these extreme conditions also doubled, from 1.4 million to 2.8 million.

The reason? In short: welfare reform, 1996—still touted by both parties as a smashing success.

The report concludes that the growth in extreme poverty “has been concentrated among those groups that were most affected by the 1996 welfare reform.” The law created the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant, replacing Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), which had guaranteed cash assistance to eligible families since 1935.”

And it has not been as if Congress could not have reversed its decision on welfare reform:

There was an opportunity recently in Congress to address, or partially address—or at the very least debate—the TANF debacle of sub-poverty benefits and declining caseloads. It wasn’t widely reported, but along with the payroll tax cut and unemployment insurance extensions, TANF was also up for reauthorization.

Congress not only took a pass on any serious debate, it threw a little gasoline on the fire.

It extended the TANF block grant through September 2012 but denied funding for the Supplemental Grants which go to seventeen mostly poor states. Dr. LaDonna Pavetti, vice president for family income support division at CBPP, notes that these supplements were created in 1996 because welfare reform resulted in poor states receiving “less than half as much federal funding per poor child as other states.”

“This wasn’t about money,” Pavetti told me. “The money’s already there in the TANF Contingency Fund. Congress could have done the exact same thing it did last year and redirected funds from the Contingency Fund to the Supplemental Grants. Total federal funding for TANF wouldn’t have changed a bit.”

We see the same thing happening with education reform. Both parties are on board behind a Democratic president who has promised to shake up the education system. There is no evidence that the standardized testing and chartering of our public schools has done anything to improve education. Yet, the reformers sit confident in smug satisfaction it all works. The mantra of “no excuses” abounds, whether in pushing people into the work force or judging students by test scores. When all is said and done, both parties will claim success in “reforming” schools.

What will this look like for the children of America? Perhaps similar to what welfare reform looks like for them now:

Jack Frech, director of the Athens County Department of Job and Family Services in Appalachian Ohio, where he has been doing this work since 1973, told me that the state has cracked down on people who fail to meet their thirty-hour weekly work requirement “and in the last six months or so they’ve driven at least 30,000 people off of assistance. The welfare caseload in Ohio is dropping rapidly. ”

He’s traveled throughout the county of late to see how conditions are changing.

“There’s a growing number of families out there—through the combination of time limits and sanctions—who have no cash whatsoever, they’re just surviving on food stamps,” he said. “The housing conditions—people are doubling, tripling up even in little trailers. These kids are hungry, they’re sleeping in chairs, or makeshift beds, crammed together. They can’t afford transportation—they’re stuck out in these communities with no way to go anywhere or do anything.”

Frech used to have funding to help with car repairs and transportation, but that’s mostly been cut. There is some gas money but that doesn’t help with the vehicle or insurance which few clients can afford after covering the basics. But if they can’t make their thirty-hour-a-week job cleaning the dog shelter, or maintaining roads or gravesites, or doing some cleaning for a government agency—“jobs that do very little to prepare them for better jobs out there,” according to Frech—they are cut from TANF.

Here is the problem. America’s economy has been declining overall for over 35 years. Ever since Jimmy Carter’s “malaise” speech (in which he never said the word “malaise”), Americans have had the sense that the future was not going to be as bright as the past. With the rise of the European Union, China, India and other competitors, it was clear that the United States was not going to enjoy the same unchallenged hegemony that people were used to.

So in the world of shrinking horizons, the corporate have decided to take as much as possible while the taking is good. There is no more sense in sharing the fruits of America’s bounty with workers or poor people. Throwing people off of welfare creates a bigger labor pool and depresses wages. Privatizing the school system opens the door to a boom in a new edu-industry. For the past 35 years, the corporate have literally taken to eating the food from the American peoples’ plate. It is the only thing left to do in an era of shrinking horizons.

I was never a Marxist, but it is clear that Marx was dead on when he saw into the future of capitalism. Fewer and fewer people will expropriate more and more of the wealth. More and more people will be dispossessed and subject to a neo-feudal state of dependency on the owners of capital.

After a while, a point will be reached when there will be too few of the corporate and too many of the dispossessed. In the end, “the expropriators will be expropriated”.

Welfare reform has relegated the children of the United States to the third world. Education reform seeks to disarm people’s ability to criticize their state of serfdom. But there will be a time, perhaps not far off in the future, where conditions will dictate responses. There will be a time when so many people are pushed into the ranks of the third world poor and they will have no choice but to criticize, just to have a hope to survive.

Ignoring poverty will only ensure that it metastasizes and eats the country from the inside out.