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Sen Avard, Along With His Lobbyist Friends, Push Bill To Toss Thousands Off SNAP Program

State Senator Kevin Avard just submitted a new piece of legislation (SB7), co-written by out-of-state lobbyists, to cut the number of people eligible for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) commonly referred to as “Food Stamps.”

Avard stated in his press release:

“The intent of this legislation is to strengthen New Hampshire’s food stamp program so that it can remain solvent for those who truly need the benefits for years to come.”

That all sounds good but there are a few things Granite Staters should know about SNAP before considering applauding this legislation.

SNAP is fully funded by the federal government. The State of NH pays nothing towards the benefits low-income families are receiving through the program.

The State of NH does have to cover 50% of the administration costs of running the program in New Hampshire, passing this bill is likely to increase the amount the state pays in administration costs.

So what would this bill accomplish?

It is all about changing the eligibility of recipients and forcing them to file additional paperwork to continue to receive benefits. It would also lower the threshold of eligibility based on gross income that does not take into account the high cost of child care.

“In 2014, there were 45,000 children in New Hampshire living in food insecure households. That means that in the previous twelve months there was an uncertainty of having, or an inability to acquire, enough food for all household members due to insufficient money or other resources. My concern with this legislation is that it will most likely increase the number of hungry children in our state,” said Marylou Beaver, Executive Director of Every Child Matters in New Hampshire during her testimony to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.

“With child food insecurity at an unacceptable number, child poverty creeping upward, and a Food Stamp program that works for children, families, and the State, now is not the time to be making changes,” Beaver added.

“SB 7 would increase the complexity of the Food Stamps application process by eliminating expanded categorical eligibility and requiring cooperation with the Division of Child Support Services. These changes will undoubtedly increase administrative spending, for which New Hampshire must pay fifty percent,” said Sarah Mattson Dustin, an attorney for the NH Legal Assistance in her testimony opposing the bill.

The changes to eligibility requirements are much more complex than most people need to understand but Mattson sums up how the NH Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) applies the income limits.

“Expanded categorical eligibility is a targeted method of determining eligibility for Food Stamps that applies to families with children that have incomes up to 185 percent of the federal poverty level ($3,108 a month for a family of three).

Again, expanded categorical eligibility only applies to families with children. If a family with children has gross income of 185 percent of the federal poverty level or less, DHHS waives the resource limit and the gross income limit that would otherwise apply.

DHHS does not waive the net income limit; families that have expanded categorical eligibility still have to meet the net income limit.”

The key is that DHHS takes into account the cost of housing, utilities, and child-care expenses before saying they exceed the income cap. This added flexibility in DHHS allows them to help struggling families above what the federal guideline would suggest but not above the federal “net income” level.

Avard admitted that he “co-wrote” this legislation with help from lobbyists at “the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA),” a well known right-wing advocacy group that is “pushing similar measures in statehouses around the country.”

The FGA is part of the right-wing “State Policy Network” that the Center for Media and Democracy describes as, “a web of state pressure groups that denote themselves as ‘think tanks’ and drive a right-wing agenda in statehouses nationwide.”

The FGA has direct ties to the nationwide corporate lobbying and policy development group, the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The CEO of FGA, Tarren Bragdon, presented on Florida’s ‘drug testing for welfare recipients bill’ at ALEC’s 2011 conference.

The former director of ALEC’s “Health and Human Services Task Force, Christie Herrera, went on to become FGA’s vice president of policy.”

Tarren was also the Executive Director of the “Maine Heritage Policy Center, a Koch-funded and affiliated right-wing think tank described as very influential within the Maine GOP establishment.”

Sen. Avard pointed to Maine as a model for how this legislation would reduce the number of people receiving SNAP benefits as a positive role model.

Since Governor Paul LePage pushed similar legislation through more than 60,000 Mainers lost access to SNAP benefits. This drastic cut resulted in many people being forced to rely on local food pantries for help in feeding their families.

“Food pantries were conceived as a source of emergency food assistance. Instead, they have become a regular source of food for many low-income Americans, including thousands of Mainers” wrote the Good Shepard Food Bank in their “Hunger Pains” report released this month.

The Hunger Pains report is based off of over 2,000 food pantry users across all 16 counties in Maine.

“Most survey respondents (86 percent) report using the food pantry at least once a month, with 29 percent visiting a pantry every week and 15 percent visiting a pantry every two weeks.”

It also has not helped childhood hunger, as 1-in-4 Maine children are “food insecure.”

Since adding these changes, Maine ranks 22nd in overall poverty and 19th in child poverty compared to New Hampshire that has the lowest rate of poverty and the lowest rate of child poverty in the Nation.

Poverty in Maine

Poverty in NH

While New Hampshire is doing well to combat poverty there is a growing number of people who are food insecure. New Hampshire ranks 6th in the nation, with 10.1% of the population reporting food insecurity, whereas Maine ranks 43rd with a whopping 15.8% reporting food insecurity.

Food Insecurity New Hampshire

Food Insecurity Maine

We do not want New Hampshire to be more like Maine. They should be striving to be more like New Hampshire.

Avard’s bill also introduces an additional provision to require all Food Stamps applicants and recipients to cooperate with the Division of Child Support Services.

“This means that custodial and non-custodial parents would have to work with the Division to establish paternity and child support in court. This is a sweeping eligibility change which will add complexity to the Food Stamps application process for program participants and enormous administrative burdens for DHHS,” testified Mattson Dustin.

This legislation would actually harm the low-income families already struggling to put food on their tables. These out of state lobbyists are trying to get New Hampshire to push thousands of Granite Staters out of the SNAP program forcing them to rely on local food banks and the charity of others to feed their families.

The Senate should reject this bill and tell the lobbyists in Washington that they should follow our lead when it comes to helping combat poverty and food insecurity.

This Thanksgiving: How To Talk About The Economy Without Getting Into An Argument

man yelling with megaphone

Is your family one of those families… where Thanksgiving dinner always ends up in a political argument?

First thing to remember is that arguing won’t get you anywhere. Research shows that when the people you’re talking with hold strong beliefs, arguing with them only makes it harder for them to change those beliefs. And “when people’s confidence in their beliefs is shaken, they become stronger advocates for those beliefs. … when faced with doubt, people shout even louder.”

Political scientists call it the “backfire” effect – and if you’re an activist, you need to know about it (and remember it). Also remember that there are neurological differences between “Republican” and “Democratic” brains… and there are behavioral differences… although scientists are still trying to figure out exactly what those differences mean.

no_megaphoneSo what are you supposed to do? If you’re, say, sitting around the Thanksgiving table when Great Uncle Chester starts berating your college-graduate niece about the fact that she’s living at home rather than in her own apartment…?

Start by finding common ground. There’s always something to agree on, if you just look hard enough. Even if it’s just a gentle restatement of what the other person said. “Yes, Uncle Chester, we all agree that college graduates should be able to find jobs that allow them to support themselves.”

Then, add a little reality in there. “But that doesn’t seem to be happening in the current economy. There are a whole lot of twenty-somethings who are still living at home.”

Try to use personal examples rather than just facts. “I remember what my neighbor’s son went through, when he graduated two years ago. It took him 18 months to find a job, and even then he earned barely enough for him to make his student loan payments.”

When you talk about facts, try to frame them as a question, not a statement. “Don’t you think that the economy has changed from when you graduated college? Remember how working in a bank used to be a highly-respected job? Did you know that, these days, almost one-third of bank tellers need food stamps?”

Don’t push too hard. With Uncle Chester, you might not be able to persuade him of anything other than that he should stop berating your niece. (And if you push any further, the conversation might get loud and become a “nobody’s going to win this” argument.)

But continue the conversation, if your audience seems receptive. “Did you know that, these days, banks are paying billions of dollars to stockholders, rather than paying their tellers a decent wage?”

— — — —

no_megaphoneDo you have a second cousin Mildred who insists that “cutting taxes for job creators” is the answer to everything?

Find something you both agree on. “Nobody likes paying taxes.”

Add a personal story. “I remember when we got President Bush’s ‘tax refund checks’ back in 2001 and 2008. It was nice to get the money, but I didn’t invest it. I don’t know anybody who invested it. Most people either kept the money in the bank or used it to pay down debt.”

Then, a little reality. “Did you know that Congress has been cutting taxes on ‘job creators’ since Ronald Reagan was President? Back then, they used to call it ‘supply side economics.’ But it didn’t fix the economy; all it did was create a huge budget deficit. So after a few years President Reagan gave up on the idea and increased taxes again.”

Is Mildred still listening? If she looks interested, rather than angry, give her a few more facts. “Did you know that corporations are spending literally trillions of dollars buying back their own stock? Rather than building new factories or hiring new employees, they’re buying back shares of their own stock in order to keep stock prices high.”

Is she still listening? “And corporations are even borrowing money – bonds they will be paying back for decades – in order to give money to their stockholders now. So I don’t think CEOs would really invest money from tax cuts in ‘job creation.’ Don’t you think they would just pay it out to stockholders?”

Is she still listening? “I wonder what would happen to our tax rates, if corporations were paying taxes at the same rate they used to, before the SEC started allowing companies to buy back their own stock. Don’t you think that we might be paying less in taxes?”

— — — —

no_megaphoneDo you have a brother-in-law who isn’t bothered by increasing inequality? Who thinks CEOs actually deserve to receive 373 times as much as their employees are paid?

Then you ought to read this Pacific-Standard magazine article about a recent International Monetary Fund report.

And you can start the conversation with something like, “We all agree that economic growth is a good thing.”

Then add a little reality. “Did you know that income inequality actually hurts our country’s economic growth?”

Add a story. “Gosh, I wonder if this is why Macy’s is having such a hard time. None of my friends are planning to do their Christmas shopping there.   It seems like everybody is shopping discount stores or making their gifts, this year.”

Use questions. “How can the economy recover, if ordinary people don’t have money to spend? Did you know that one in ten American jobs is in retail? What’s going to happen to that sector of the economy if wages stay stagnant?  What’s going to happen to the rest of the economy?”

Know your audience, and either stop (before things get loud) or keep going. “Did you know that increasing the income share to the bottom 20% – even just by a tiny bit – helps the whole economy grow?”  “Do you think that’s why the economy grew more, back when income was a bit more equal?”

— — — —

no_megaphoneAnd if the conversation turns to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) treaty… please be thoughtful and careful about what you say.

Personally, I’m tired of politicians pitting people against each other. And factory employees in Singapore are working to feed their families, just like we are.

The problem with the TPP isn’t overseas workers, it’s how much power the treaty would give to corporations. It’s how much power the treaty would give to big banks. It’s the idea of America giving up our right to enforce our laws, when those laws are inconvenient to multinational corporations. It’s the idea of turning over even more of our country’s sovereignty to international “investor-state dispute settlement” (ISDS) tribunals.  Read more about how the TPP empowers corporations on the Public Citizen website.

So please, if you’re opposing the TPP, don’t talk about how overseas workers are taking “our” jobs. The real problem is how much it will benefit corporations.

The real problem is that corporate profits are at all-time highs… while labor’s share of that bounty is pretty close to its all-time low.

And the TPP is likely to make that problem worse, not better.

But that’s not the fault of the migrant workers in a Malaysian electronics factory.

— — — —

Happy Thanksgiving! I hope the conversation around your dinner table is a peaceful one.

— — — —

no_fearBut if the conversation turns to Paris and Syrian refugees, please be especially careful. Fear is one of the most basic human emotions… it’s also one of the most destructive… and one of the easiest to manipulate.

Journalist Naomi Klein is the author of “The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.” She’s done a lot of research into how corporatists use disasters to push through political change. Read her work about the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina here.

“For more than three decades, [economist Milton] Friedman and his powerful followers had been perfecting this very strategy: waiting for a major crisis, then selling off pieces of the state to private players while citizens were still reeling from the shock, then quickly making the ‘reforms’ permanent. In one of his most influential essays, Friedman articulated contemporary capitalism’s core tactical nostrum, what I have come to understand as the shock doctrine. He observed that ‘only a crisis— actual or perceived—produces real change.’ ”

I think of her work every time someone mentions the Bush tax cuts. Back in 2001, the federal government had a budget surplus; and in the first few weeks of September, the Washington Post did a poll that found 57% of Americans wanted the Bush tax cuts reversed, in order to preserve that surplus. Then 9/11 happened. And a decade and a half later, we still haven’t gotten tax rates restored to Clinton-era levels… and the federal debt has increased by $12.4 trillion.  (And we’re being told we need to cut Social Security, rather than restore the tax rates that President Bush cut even further “while citizens were still reeling from the shock” of 9/11.)

The Paris attacks renewed the atmosphere of fear that I remember after 9/11… and we’ve already seen how some politicians want to use that fear to change government policies. The good news is: my Facebook feed is full of people pushing back against these proposals, questioning them and using historical analogies to say “This is not what America stands for.” The bad news is: Facebook feeds are determined by an algorithm that tends to reinforce what people already believe.

So… when the conversation turns to Paris, and ISIS, remember the advice above.  Arguing isn’t going to help. You need to find some way to help the people you’re talking with step away from their fear, and step into the reality that their fear allows them to be manipulated. Find something to say that you both agree on – most people agree that refugees should be vetted before being resettled – and work from there.

Congress Votes Tomorrow On Everything That Will Happen For The Rest Of Obama’s Presidency

Congress West Front Late last night, House GOP leadership announced a compromise bill that will (temporarily) end all the Congress-created crises by setting the federal budget and suspending the debt limit through the end of the Obama presidency.

The House is expected to vote on the bill tomorrow (Wednesday). A draft of the bill is available here.

What it doesn’t do, from the perspective of the Right Wing:

  1. It doesn’t try to force through the Keystone XL Pipeline.
  2. It doesn’t try to de-fund Planned Parenthood.
  3. It doesn’t try to repeal the Affordable Care Act.
  4. It doesn’t try to voucherize Medicare.
  5. It doesn’t try to privatize Social Security.

What it doesn’t do, from the perspective of the Working Class:

  1. It doesn’t rein in corporate giveaways to stockholders, such as dividends and buybacks. (Trillions of dollars that corporations could have used to create jobs, pay fair wages and make long-term investments.)
  2. It doesn’t end the tax preference for unearned income. (Most investment income is still taxed at about half the rate of wage income.) Ending this tax preference could end the budget deficit.
  3. It doesn’t eliminate the Social Security wage cap (which would strengthen Social Security, long-term).
  4. It doesn’t raise the minimum wage.
  5. In its current form, it doesn’t do much to reverse previous cuts to Food Stamps, veterans benefits, and other safety-net programs. It doesn’t mention the 2.1 million American workers who are long-term unemployed… or the 1-in-five American children who are living in poverty.

What it does do:

  1. It loosens the Sequester budget restrictions, both for defense and non-defense spending – and it also increases an off-budget military spending account.
  2. It completely rewrites the procedures governing IRS audits of business partnerships. (Call me cynical, but I’m guessing that part of the bill was written by somebody’s lobbyist.)
  3. It diverts some Social Security tax revenue into the Social Security Disability Trust Fund, and *privacy alert* it also creates a new information clearinghouse (presumably, to be used to detect fraud).
  4. It reduces payments to some Medicare providers and regulates the increase in Medicare supplement policy premiums.
    AND
  5. It renames the small House rotunda… in honor of the House Freedom Caucus.

It does some other things. Please take the time to read through the bill yourself – and encourage your Congressional representatives to do the same. Contact information for those representatives is available here.

————-

Having watched this impossibly deadlocked Congress — and its impossibly intransigent Right Wing

Personally, if this “grand compromise” happens, I don’t expect anything else to get through this Congress until President Obama leaves office.  (Remember, GOP extremists have been working to “submarine his presidency” since the very first day of his first term.)

Granite State Rumblings: SNAP Helps Recipients Eat Better, Boosting Local Farmers Markets

Farm Stand Image by CBERTEL Flicker CC

Farm Stand Image by CBERTEL Flicker CC

We all want every child to have what they need to grow up healthy. Healthy foods contain all the energy, minerals, vitamins and fiber kids need to grow. Yet families who depend on food stamps for the bulk of their meals tend to eat a lot of processed foods that are heavy in carbohydrates. Fresh fruits and vegetables do not seem like an option for many families on tight budgets.

The average SNAP (food stamps) recipient received about $133 a month (or about $4.45 a day) in fiscal year 2013. The average dropped to about $125 a month in fiscal year 2014 when a benefit increase included in the 2009 Recovery Act ended in November 2013, resulting in a benefit cut for nearly every SNAP household.

However, there is some good news. Tucked away in the Farm Bill’s nine hundred plus pages which went into law in February, is a benefit for SNAP beneficiaries that allows them to double their benefits at farmers markets. “This program helps families buy healthy food from their local farmers markets, which also helps family farmers and boosts the economy,” said Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, who was instrumental in introducing the plan.

The program will provide $100 million to create grants that incentivize SNAP beneficiaries to use their benefits at farmers markets by matching their spending.

This is especially important for those on food stamps because, as Terry Smith, Director of the Division of Family Assistance for the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services said recently, “Almost all clients have run out of food and benefits within the third week of the month, which often forces them to rely on food pantries for assistance”.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS) Administrator Anne Alonzo announced over the weekend that USDA’s National Farmers Market Directory now lists 8,268 markets, an increase of 76 percent since 2008. According to the press release:

The data reflects continued demand and growth of farmers markets in every region of the country. Alonzo also announced that AMS is developing three new local food directories that will expand USDA’s support for local and regional foods by providing easy access to the most current information about the local food market.

Alonzo made the announcements at the Dane County Farmers Market in Madison, Wisconsin, the country’s largest producer-only market, where she kicked off the 15th annual “National Farmers Market Week”, from Aug. 3 through Aug. 9, 2014.

“The National Farmers Market Directory numbers reflect the continued importance of farmers markets to American agriculture. Since its inception, the directory has proven to be a valuable tool for accessing up-to-date information about local farmers markets,” Alonzo said. “Farmers markets play an extremely important role for both farmers and consumers. They bring urban and rural communities together while creating economic growth and increasing access to fresh, healthy foods.”

The USDA National Farmers Market Directory provides information about U.S. farmers market locations, directions, operating times, product offerings, and much more. The data is collected via voluntary self-reporting by operating farmers market managers and is searchable by zip code, product mix, and other criteria.

One of the biggest issues with this program is that many SNAP recipients may not know about it. Let’s help spread the word!

Here is an excellent article on the topic from Seacoast Online:

Food aid boosted for Seacoast families By Denise J. Wheeler

Among the shoppers at last weekend’s bustling Portsmouth farmers market was a 45-year-old man buying fresh produce for the first time in his life. “I’m on Cloud Nine,” he told a Seacoast Eat Local volunteer. “I didn’t know lettuce came in a ball.”

In a region becoming increasingly renowned for its culinary elite, there are many who cannot afford the luxury of farm fresh raspberries in July at $4 a half-pint. Left without enough money to pay bills and feed their children, families using the federally funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — formerly known as food stamps — tend to shy away from grocery store produce sections and farmers markets, fearing the price of fresh food will consume too much of their limited monthly allotment. Too often, by the month’s end, SNAP funds have run out for families and they end up in food pantries.

Read the rest of the article.

Taxpayers Are Paying Profitable Corporations To Create Jobs?

Toyota GT86 – Frontansicht, 17. September 2012, DüsseldorfWhen word first spread that Toyota was moving jobs from California to Texas, some right-wing talking heads were blaming California’s government.

But within a day, the Wall Street Journal had figured it out: it was actually Texas’ government.  Yes, the newspaper owned by Rupert Murdoch broke the story: Texas to Pay $10,000 for Each Toyota Job

Texas offered Toyota $40 million to move, part of a Texas Enterprise Fund incentive program run out of the governor’s office. At $10,000 a job, it was one of the largest incentives handed out in the decade-old program and cost more per job created than any other large award. Last year, Texas spent about $6,800 to lure each of 1,700 Chevron Corp. positions to Houston and $5,800 for each of 3,600 Apple Inc. jobs shifted to Austin.

Ok, so… let me see if I can get this straight.

Toyota just had a second year of record profits.

Toyota wasn’t actively considering locating in Texas.  “Toyota narrowed its preferred locations to Denver, Atlanta and Charlotte, N.C.” before choosing to move to Texas because of the economic incentives.

$10,000 a job.  Courtesy of Texas taxpayers.

Gosh, it’s a good time to be a corporation.

OK, I need to give the Wall Street Journal some credit here: they have been working the “state economic incentives for jobs” beat for a while now.  From their 2013 story about Washington state’s genuflection to Boeing:

Officials from most of the states Boeing invited to participate have publicly expressed interest. Missouri’s governor, Democrat Jay Nixon, on Tuesday is to sign a package of incentives approved last week by the state’s largely Republican legislature. The measure would be worth $150 million annually to Boeing if the company creates at least 2,000 jobs in Missouri.

Ok, by my math: $150 million a year divided by 2,000 jobs equals $75,000 per job per year… which would have been courtesy of Missouri taxpayers.

Back to their story:

Washington’s legislature last month approved sweeteners valued at $8.7 billion over 16 years—which experts say is the largest corporate-incentive package in U.S. history—in an effort to keep the jobs

And, back to my math: $8.7 billion over 16 years is about $544 million a year – or, more than three times what Missouri offered.

If we’re still talking about 2,000 jobs… that’s about $272,000 per job per year, courtesy of Washington state taxpayers.

Wow.

(Boeing, by the way, just distributed $3 billion as dividends and stock buy-backs.)

Yes, this is what has been going on, all across America.  Billions of dollars in government aid to corporations, even as Congress cut the Food Stamp program and rejected an increase in the minimum wage.

It’s a really good time to be a corporation.

Or a CEO.

Or a lobbyist.

(But not such a good time to be a US veteran.  More than a million veterans are minimum-wage workers who won’t see their pay increase.  And another million veterans just had their Food Stamp allotments cut.  Where are our priorities?)

Granite State Rumblings: Congress Takes Votes With Significant Impacts On Working Families

Obama Health Care Speech to Joint Session of Congress House of Representatives (wiki commons)

President Obama addresses a joint session of Congress 2009 (wiki commons)

The United States Congress took several votes last week on policies that will impact children and working families if passed.

Unemployment Insurance

After many weeks of debate and delay, the United States Senate passed a temporary extension of federal unemployment insurance. Retroactive to January 1st, the insurance would help the 2.3 million unemployed jobseekers who suffered the loss of this critical aid, which plunged families into even greater hardship. While an important first step, this measure now needs approval in the House of Representatives. The leadership of that body has no immediate plans to vote on it. They will act only if they hear from you. Click here to contact your Representative and tell him or her to vote to extend these crucial benefits. Type in your information and you will be patched through by phone to your Representative.

2015 Budget

The House of Representatives voted 219-205 in favor of the budget resolution drafted by House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan. This budget would dramatically cut programs that promote and protect the health, education, and safety of children, particularly those in low-income families. Fortunately, nothing further will happen with this budget. The Senate will not vote on it, and the spending levels for next year were set last December in a House-Senate agreement. The problem is that after this year, the mindless automatic budget cuts Congress calls “the sequester” will come back and attack Head Start, child care, K-12 education, and other vital programs again. Congress has big decisions coming up soon about whether to maintain or strengthen investments in children or cut them back dramatically. We will keep you informed on how you can help defend children.

Paycheck Fairness

The minority in the Senate blocked a vote on a measure to help address the reality that women are paid $10,784 less per year than men – enough to buy groceries for 92 weeks. Women are breadwinners in two-thirds of families and head more than 15 million U.S. households. When women and their families lose thousands of dollars in critical income each year, they have significantly less money to spend on food, gas, rent and other basic necessities. The consequences for America’s children and families are significant. We thank the 53 senators who voted for this. This issue will not go away.

Our Members of Congress are now on recess for two weeks. Please give them a call and ask them their positions on unemployment insurance, the budget, and equal pay.

GROWING UP GRANITE

There have been several pieces of legislation this session around EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) cards and cash assistance. I am not going to jump into the fray of what should or should not be allowable purchases with an EBT card. A House legislative subcommittee will soon be working on that issue.

I will, however give you some facts. In New Hampshire, needy individuals can receive both food stamps and cash assistance on an EBT card. In order to receive cash benefits through the State’s Financial Assistance to Needy Families program, you have to be either poor and blind; poor and old (over the age of 65); or poor and permanently and totally disabled.

The federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, program is available for those who only meet the poverty qualification. TANF can serve needy families for a maximum of 60 months, though the average duration in the Granite State is a little over 18 months. TANF is funded by both the federal and state governments. The maximum TANF grant for a parent with 2 children is $675.00 per month. According to the newest grant to rent report from the Division of Family Assistance, the average rent in NH for an apartment for a household of 3 is $726.00 per month.

So now imagine that you are a mom with two kids and you need to rely on TANF while searching for a new job because the company where you worked for the last 6 years just closed.

  • Your child wants to wear that favorite outfit tomorrow, but it requires a trip to the Laundromat and you don’t have enough quarters for both the washer and the dryer.
  • You spent all of your monthly assistance on rent and utilities and there is no money to buy your child a new outfit right now, so s/he will have to wear the pants and sneakers that are too small just a bit longer.
  • You have to tell your daughter that she isn’t going to play on the softball team with her best friends this year because you can’t afford the registration fee, let alone the glove and cleats.
  • You need to convince your child to join the chorus this year because a musical instrument rental is just not in the cards.
  • Your food stamps assistance won’t be on your EBT card for another 3 days, so brownies for the bake sale aren’t going to happen this time.

These are the realities of life on TANF and food stamps. There is no digging deeper to provide the extras for the kids. The Legislative Task Force to Study the Adequacy of the TANF Grant (HB1461) released these findings in November of 2007:

The Task Force determined that TANF grant levels do not provide adequate opportunities for many parents to get a fair shot at getting a job that enables them to support their children. The costs of housing, child care, food and transportation outstrip the ability of families forced to rely on TANF to pay for them. This makes it more difficult for parents to obtain jobs or to participate in training, education or other activities that would make it more likely they could leave TANF and to provide a safe, secure and healthy family life for their children while making this transition.

Children who live in poverty are often influenced by family stressors that others do not have. It should not be their problem to worry about where money is coming from for their next school trip or groceries next week and yet they do. This can humiliate them further if they are called out for wearing clothes that don’t fit them or are not the current “fad”, or made to feel different when they don’t have the money for school or sports activities.

While the support of friends is beneficial to children, the humiliation of peers pointing out what they are lacking can be devastating.

The effects of a child’s poor self-esteem can influence the quality of their education as well. If they are not feeling confident in their own abilities, it then can influence the outcome of their schoolwork and possibly their future employment prospects. This is one reason why the cycle of poverty in a family from generation to generation can be hard to break.

Before our legislators contemplate any changes to how needy families receive their benefits, it is my hope that they keep in mind that children are involved in the process. While they rightfully believe that they have a responsibility to use taxpayer dollars wisely, they also have a responsibility to act in the best interest of the children.

One ‘Modest Proposal’? Or the other?

cloverI couldn’t help it.  This year, on Saint Patrick’s Day, I didn’t feel much like partying.

I couldn’t stop thinking about Ireland’s Great Famine — and hearing echoes across the centuries, right here in the United States, as the working class endures Year Seven of their Great Recession (while the elite are taking home more money than ever).

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one thinking along those lines.  If you can take three minutes to read “Paul Ryan’s Irish Amnesia” you’ll see what I mean.

[In the 1840s] A great debate raged in London: Would it be wrong to feed the starving Irish with free food, thereby setting up a “culture of dependency”? Certainly England’s man in charge of easing the famine, Sir Charles Trevelyan, thought so. “Dependence on charity,” he declared, “is not to be made an agreeable mode of life.”

That Great Famine, of course, wasn’t the first time Ireland’s poor had been ravaged by economic conditions.

In 1729, Irish author Jonathan Swift (writing anonymously) tried to call attention to the plight of the poor — and the heartless attitudes of the rich — through his classic satire, “A Modest Proposal.”

The plight of the poor… versus the attitudes of the rich.  Some things don’t ever seem to change.

I found an interesting chart on the website of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. It compares the amount of federal taxes paid by corporations (red line) with the amount of profit that corporations pay out to their stockholders as dividends (blue line).

And it looks like during all those decades when the American Middle Class was thriving, corporations were paying about the same amount in taxes to the federal government as they were paying in dividends to their stockholders.

  • Corporate taxes help the federal government fund the various infrastructures that businesses need to thrive, including transportation (highways, bridges, ports); the court system (contract enforcement); public safety and law enforcement.  These days, large employers like WalMart, McDonalds and the country’s biggest banks also depend on safety-net programs such as Medicaid and Food Stamps to supplement their workers’ low wages.
  • Dividends represent the payout of corporate revenues which were not spent on wages/benefits or invested in expansion (new factories, new equipment, new product development, new employees).  To the stockholders, they are “passive earnings” — similar to the bank interest most of us used to earn on money in our savings accounts — money that you get simply because you already have money.

All the way up until Ronald Reagan signed “The Tax Reform Act of 1986”, it looks like those two amounts were pretty much equal: what corporations paid as taxes, and what they paid out as dividends.

So I’d like to make a “Modest Proposal” of my own: let’s go back to that tradition.

From the chart, it looks like that single change would add about $380 billion a year in federal revenues: enough to fund the Food Stamp program four times over (and still have billions to spend other things).

Restore corporate tax levels.

MY “Modest Proposal” isn’t intended as a satire. And it would be a lot easier to swallow than Jonathan Swift’s.

Just sayin’.

Politicians Thank Veterans For Their Service, Then Cut Programs To Feed Them

Hometown heroes volunteered and served lunch at the New England Center for Homeless Veterans May 5, 2010.  Photo Credit Cpl. Priscilla Sneden (USMC)

Hometown heroes volunteered and served lunch at the New England Center for Homeless Veterans May 5, 2010. Photo Credit Cpl. Priscilla Sneden (USMC)

This weekend we celebrate Veterans Day.  Veterans Day is the day when we all stop and thank the brave men and women, who stepped up to serve our country.  These men and women risked their lives to protect our freedom, and our way of life.  I would personally like to thank every veteran who chose to serve our country.

I am not the only one who is thanking veterans this weekend.  “Our veterans represent the very best of America,” said Congresswoman Annie Kuster.  “Today, and every day, we express our gratitude for the sacrifices they’ve made, for the extraordinary example they’ve set, and for everything they’ve done to keep our country safe, prosperous, and free.

Last year Speaker John Boehner released a video message that said:

Saying ‘thank you’ is important, but there’s always more that we the people can do for those whose sacrifices preserved the heritage of freedom.

While he is saying ‘thank you’ to veterans, he is slapping them across the face at the same time. Speaker Boehner is leading the House of Representatives to starve nearly a million veterans.  The Republicans in the House pushed for billions of dollars in cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) more commonly known as food stamps.

There is a well-known myth that people on food stamps are gaming the system.  Congressman Markwayne Mullin (R-Okla.) believes that the entire food stamp program is overrun with “fraud,”. “Absolute 100 percent, all of it is fraud. There’s fraud all through that,” Mullin said.

I wonder if Congressman Mullin’s opinion would change when he finds out that over 2,000 veterans in his state alone rely on food stamps to feed their families?

Accordingly to a report out this week from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, approximately 900,000 veterans are currently dependent, in whole or part, on food stamp benefits to care for their themselves and their families.” (Forbes 10/30/13)

The Huffington post also compiled the number of veterans who rely on food stamps and they came up with a different number.

According to data compiled by the Huffington Post, 1.5 million veteran households are using SNAP. The sharp increase of veterans or other military families relying on food stamps is right in line with what is happening across the board: more families are struggling to make ends meet because of the recovering economy and families who may have never needed assistance before are looking for help.” (Veterans Today)

I do not know which is worse; the fact that Congressional Republicans made cuts to a program that helps feed low-income families or the fact that over 900,000 veterans are dependent on food stamps?

It is disgusting and appalling that our veterans are paid such poverty wages that they cannot afford to live.  Our veterans are also coming back from their time in the service to find high unemployment.  Currently there is a 9% unemployment rate for Veterans, and higher for those Veterans who returned with disabilities.

Bryce Covert wrote on Think Progress:

Nearly one in 10 veterans with disabilities were without employment in 2010. They are also disproportionately likely to live in poverty and to be homeless. In 2010, nearly a million veterans ages 18 to 64 had experienced poverty over the past year. As of 2011, nearly one in seven homeless adults was a veteran and more than four in ten homeless veterans were without shelter. They are therefore heavily impacted by cuts to the social safety net.”

This Veterans Day we need our politicians to stop talking how much they support veterans and actually do something to help our struggling vets.  We need to start by restoring the cuts made to the SNAP program. Then we need to work on lowering the unemployment rate for returning soldiers.

The government should be doing more to help transition these veterans into careers.  They could move right into a civilian government job like the Postal Service or Department of Transportation. The government could also mandate a percentage of veteran employees in private companies with defense contracts.

We as a nation should not sit idly by while our veterans are starving and living on the streets.  This Veterans Day take a moment to help a vet by calling your Congressman and telling them to restore the cuts to the SNAP programs and stop starving our veterans.

Homeless Veterans

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Senator Shaheen: We Must Protect SNAP Benefits, Support Efforts of NH Food Bank

In Manchester, Shaheen notes 1 out of 9 New Hampshire Households Struggle to Afford a Nutritionally Adequate Diet 

Shaheen Calls to Protect and Strengthen Critical Programs for Vulnerable New Hampshire Families and Children

(Manchester, NH) With one in nine individuals food insecure in New Hampshire, U.S. Senator Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) visited the New Hampshire Food Bank in Manchester this morning to discuss efforts to fight hunger and protect the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). SNAP provides critical nutrition assistance to nine percent of New Hampshire households.

“The work being done here at the New Hampshire Food Bank is incredibly important to so many Granite Staters,” Shaheen said. “It’s wrong that one out of nine Granite Staters, including 40,000 children, don’t have access to  enough food to lead a healthy life. We have to do better and that starts with protecting and strengthening programs like SNAP for families and children across New Hampshire.”

Shaheen is part of a Senate coalition opposing drastic cuts to SNAP that would prevent millions of children, seniors, and families from accessing nutritious food, including hundreds of thousands of low-income children from accessing school meals. SNAP is increasingly important as the closure of several supermarkets in New Hampshire, which are a major source of donations to the food bank, is estimated to result in the loss of 800,000 meals.

During her tour of the facilities Shaheen met with volunteers and was briefed on the Food Bank’s Culinary Job Training Program which helps individuals suffering financial hardship gain necessary skills and experience to seek employment in the food service industry.

As the only food bank in the state, the NH Food Bank is the key distributor and supplier to the hunger relief agencies that serve meals and provide groceries to people who do not have enough to eat. On average these agencies receive 40% of their food from the NH Food Bank. In 2012, the NH Food Bank distributed 8,403,872 pounds of food.

Senator Shaheen donated her salary during the recent government shutdown to the New Hampshire Food Bank.

GOP in Congress: Keeping — or BREAKING? — Promises

Crossed fingers ICan someone please explain to me… how can the GOP be simultaneously

  • planning to cut Social Security and Medicare benefits
    and
  • holding sacrosanct the government’s payments to bondholders?

What, exactly, is the big difference?  For Social Security and Medicare, people have paid money into the system, with the expectation that they would receive an agreed-upon return (benefits) at a later date.  Just the same way that bondholders have loaned money, with the expectation that they would receive an agreed-upon return (principal plus interest) at a later date.

Would bondholders be happy if House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan suggested trimming bond repayments between 15% and 45%?  So why should people who have paid into Social Security accept those kinds of cuts?

Let’s see… if Ryan reduced federal bond payments by 15%, wouldn’t that free up about $54 billion a year?  Wait… wouldn’t that more than cover the $40 billion of cuts to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program that Republicans want to make?

Pediatricians at the Boston Medical Center have studied the interaction between hunger and health, and yesterday announced that SNAP was “one of America’s most cost-effective and successful public health programs in the country” and by improving children’s health, SNAP actually “saves society money.”  Except that Republicans want to cut children’s health insurance, too.  At this point, you halfway expect House leadership to start quoting Jonathan Swift.  But I digress.

Or if Ryan reduced bond payments by 45%, wouldn’t that free up about $162 billion a year?  Which would more than cover the revenue cost of not returning to Clinton-era tax rates.

But the GOP isn’t suggesting that bondholders should absorb those sorts of cuts…oh, no, that would be unthinkable.  So why would they think that Social Security recipients are fair game?

You pay your money in, you expect to get it back as promised.

Here’s what I think will happen, during the next few weeks of government shutdown/debt-limit crisis.  I think the Republicans will stop using Obamacare as their line in the sand/can’t compromise issue.  I think they will switch to insisting on some sort of “Entitlement Reform” in exchange for not driving our economy totally off the cliff.  And “Entitlement Reform” is Tea Party lingo for making cuts to Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

At one level, I guess it’s fair to lump Social Security and Medicare into the category of “entitlements” – you pay your money in, you’re entitled to get it back as promised.

Just like the US Treasury’s bondholders are entitled to get their money back as promised.

I’m wondering how the GOP is going to explain the difference between those promises, over the next few weeks.  Can’t imagine what rhetoric they will come up with, to justify holding bondholders harmless while trying to cut Social Security benefits.

 

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