Tag Archives: Welfare

Gingrich Food Stamp Remarks Reflect Common, Harmful Misconceptions

The 2012 GOP primary race has produced a lot of controversial sound bites, but perhaps the most ubiquitous in the past two weeks came from former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich, when he said that if the NAACP invited him, he would “go to their convention and talk about why the African American community should demand paychecks and not be satisfied with food stamps.”

The NAACP responded almost immediately, pointing out that, “The majority of people using food stamps are not African-American, and most people using food stamps have a job,” and that although Gingrich was invited several times to the NAACP’s annual convention while he was serving as Speaker of the House, he has never attended.

Weeks later, a sad but powerful piece by The Grio allowed food stamp recipients – many of whom did not receive, or need, nutrition assistance before the recession – to share their own reactions to these remarks.

“I pay taxes. I don’t steal anything from the government.” Said Linda Miles, an African-American woman who also happens to be a veteran with a Master’s degree. While looking for a permanent job, Miles has taken an unpaid internship and become certified to work in early childhood care, and adds, “I’m not one of these people who sit on their butt and just collect a check. I’ve got a resume three pages long.”

“I’d rather work than be on food stamps, but, I mean, my body says no.” Explained Russell Johnson, who worked in refrigeration before being injured. “If I sit for too long, my back starts hurting and my leg goes numb. If I stand too long, the same old thing. And if I walk too much, my legs give out like they ain’t even there.”

Josephine Gonzales, who was employed before her pregnancy but unable to find work after giving birth, described her food assistance as “A way to survive.”

“Instead of spending the little cash I have on food, I can spend it on diapers and other things for my baby,” she said. “It’s just a small help. It’s not making our lives luxurious.”

To those familiar with the realities of poverty and food insecurity in America, that a recipient would feel compelled to explain that food stamps don’t buy a life of luxury seems a bit strange – one would think it obvious that people who receive government assistance aren’t exactly “living large.” But with his remarks about food stamps – particularly food stamps and the African-American community – Gingrich is building on the foundation President Ronald Reagan laid when he invented the “welfare queen.”

The phrase “welfare queen” has decidedly ignoble origins. During his administration, President Reagan often illustrated the need for welfare reform by telling the story of a “Chicago welfare queen” who collected over $150,000 from the government using “eighty names, thirty addresses, twelve Social Security cards, and is collecting veteran’s benefits on four non-existing deceased husbands. And she’s collecting Social Security on her cards. She’s got Medicaid, is getting food stamps, and she is collecting welfare under each of her names.” He continued to refer to this woman as a classic example of welfare abuse in America even after the press corrected him that the woman he was referring to was convicted in 1977 of using two names in order to collect $8,000.

Despite the welfare queen’s nonexistence, for decades she has been a powerful tool for stirring up middle-class resentment against government aid recipients.  Likewise, Newt Gingrich’s remarks about the value of the paycheck over the food stamp reinforce the idea that welfare recipients are accepting government aid in place of paid employment, when in reality it is most often used to supplement insufficient paychecks.

The widespread myth that people living in poverty are simply unmotivated and won’t work as long as they’re receiving government assistance, encourages Americans to support slashing safety net programs that, in actuality,  enable thousands of Americans with jobs to put food on the table for themselves and their families.

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Filed under 2012 Election, Economic Justice, Welfare, Working poor

Pennsylvania Restricts Access to Food Stamps in Tough Economic Times

Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Welfare (DPW) under the Corbett Administration plans to implement an asset-based eligibility test by May 2012 that will restrict the number of Pennsylvanians eligible to receive assistance through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is more commonly known as food stamps.  Once the asset test is implemented, families must have less than $2,000 in savings and other assets, and households with seniors must have less than $3,250 in assets, to qualify for food stamps.  Houses, retirement benefits, and a single car would be exempt, but any additional vehicle worth more than $4,650 would not.  DPW’s decision to join a minority of states by shifting to an asset test is an example of how DPW’s stereotypical, inaccurate views of the poor lead to selfish, short-sighted policies that will harm Pennsylvania.

The DPW’s rationale for this change is that it will reduce waste, fraud, and abuse, but the facts do not support this argument.  Tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians could lose their food stamps with no benefit for Pennsylvania’s taxpayers from this misguided and ill-conceived policy: Pennsylvania already has among the lowest SNAP fraud rates in the country and Pennsylvania will not save a single penny of state money by implementing this change because it will deprive Pennsylvania of federal SNAP dollars and raise administrative costs.  The change will also hurt Pennsylvania’s economy by reducing the economic activity that SNAP generates through community spending.  Furthermore, the asset limit applied in the test—$2,000 for most households and $3,250 for seniors—is outdated, having been originally proposed almost three decades ago, when families could afford more with less money.  The asset test also sends the wrong message by penalizing and discouraging savings, thereby harming hardworking and frugal lower income individuals, including the working poor, individuals who have been laid off recently, and seniors.

Denying food stamps to people who need it exacerbates the effects of poverty, which already disproportionately impacts women, who are more likely than men to face barriers to gainful employment due to discrimination, pregnancy, caretaking responsibilities, and the effects of domestic and sexual violence.  Lower income individuals and families lack access to nutritious food: poorer neighborhoods have fewer supermarkets than wealthier neighborhoods, and nutritious food is generally more expensive than less nutritious food.   This lack of access to nutritious food results in poorer health, including malnutrition, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and many other health conditions.

For the long term health of Pennsylvania’s citizens and its economy, DPW should think twice about limiting the poor’s access to nutritious food.  Urge Governor Corbett to stop efforts to implement this short-sighted, harmful asset test for SNAP.  The change will negatively affect the lives of real people for whom food stamps make the difference between having a nutritious meal and going hungry or resorting to unhealthy but less expensive food options.  The result for Pennsylvania could be an increase in the number of individuals who go hungry and who are more likely to suffer life-long health consequences.

To learn more about Pennsylvania’s proposal to institute a harmful asset test for SNAP benefits, check out the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger.  To learn more about the impact of poverty on women’s health, stay tuned for the Women’s Law Project’s forthcoming report, Through the Lens of Equality: Gender Bias, Health, and a New Vision for Pennsylvania’s Women.

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Filed under Economic Justice, Government, Welfare, Working poor

PA Department of Public Welfare Blames the Poor and Penalizes the Disabled

On October 26, 2011, Tim Costa, the Executive Deputy Secretary of Pennsylvania’s Department of Public Welfare (DPW), testified about implementation of Governor Tom Corbett’s new state budget, which cut hundreds of millions of dollars from DPW programs that help the poor and disabled.  Costa said:

[T]he welfare system, over time, has contributed to the problems that the country now faces.For years, if not decades, our welfare system has fostered unhealthy levels of dependency and family fragmentation that represents a staggering loss for our country and our state. The reality is that low income individuals today are far less capable of self-reliance – especially in this downturn – than they were when means-tested welfare became a growth industry in the late 1960s. Moreover, a much larger portion of our population today is welfare dependent than it was in 1970. President Reagan once remarked that we “declared war on poverty, and poverty won.” He was and is correct.  Therefore, our long-range challenge is to transform our welfare system so that it becomes part of the solution, not the problem (Costa Testimony PDF).

Invoking the specter of President Reagan, Costa repeats discredited welfare myths that poor people and government programs are primarily to blame for poverty and that anti-poverty programs contribute to the problem (we blogged about a related welfare myth—the “welfare queen”—a year ago).  According to these myths, a reiteration of the controversial “culture of poverty”  arguments popularized in the 1960s, the poor grow dependent on government assistance programs and develop certain behaviors, such as weak work ethics, that keep them in poverty.  Here, Costa uses these stereotypes of the poor to excuse the Corbett Administration and the Pennsylvania General Assembly for turning their backs on the most vulnerable Pennsylvanians in tough economic times.

These myths persist despite no evidence that public assistance actually causes impoverished individuals to choose to stay poor simply to continue receiving welfare.  It is telling that Costa never mentions the welfare amounts supposedly so high that they would compel someone to forgo paid employment: in fact, a mother with two children in most Pennsylvania counties receives a mere $403 a month. It is ludicrous to assume that anyone, much less a parent, would be discouraged from working by such minimal assistance. At current levels, assistance through Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is still well below the federal poverty line.  It is more likely that most individuals who stay on public assistance for extended periods of time do so because of real economic problems outside of their control.

As DPW cuts government programs for the poor, more Pennsylvanians are slipping into poverty.  In 2010, the Commonwealth had a 13.4 percent poverty rate .  Poverty disproportionately burdens women, especially single mothers and ethnic minorities, as discrimination, pregnancy, caretaking obligations, and the impact of domestic violence and sexual assault create barriers to gainful employment.  It is particularly difficult to find gainful employment today.  According to a report by the Pew Trust, the percent of unemployed who have been unemployed for more than a year surged recently to over 30 percent, more than double the highest percentage recorded over the past forty years. There are simply too few jobs, and those that exist pay too little for workers to support their families.

Furthermore, cutting DPW programs ignores the economic boost anti-poverty measures can provide: every $5 in new SNAP benefits, for example, translates into $9 of total community spending, as families use their benefits supporting stores, warehouses, truck drivers, and farms.

Costa also boasts in his testimony about the ways in which DPW has turned its back on the disabled and gravely ill by dropping people from Medical Assistance.  Needy and deserving recipients have lost coverage due to minor paperwork errors beyond the individual recipient’s control.  These arbitrary actions, taken under the guise of rooting out “waste and fraud,” have harmed real people, such as children with cerebral palsy who have been wrongly dropped from Medical Assistance. 

With this state budget, the Corbett Administration, DPW, and the General Assembly have let down the people of Pennsylvania.  We need more from our state government than arbitrary practices and excuses for selfish, short-sighted policies.

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Filed under Economic Justice, Government, Pennsylvania, Welfare

Study Shows Importance of Medical Insurance for Poor as PA Cuts $400 Million from Welfare

“The first rigorously controlled assessment of the impact of Medicaid” recently revealed that when the poor are provided with medical insurance, “they not only find regular doctors and see doctors more often but they also feel better, are less depressed and are better able to maintain financial stability.”

However, despite the obvious benefits of providing insurance for the poor, recent Pennsylvania legislation mandates a $400 million cut from that state’s welfare budget. Richard P. Weishaupt, senior attorney for Community Legal Services in Philadelphia, told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review that the bill will “dramatically increase child care co-payments, cut Medicaid benefits, change the rules for welfare-to-work programs to eliminate training and educational programs, and reduce eligibility for benefits.”

The study by the National Bureau of Economic Research is the first to research the effects of insurance coverage on randomly-selected individuals. Previously, studying a population in which some participants are given insurance and some are not would have been impossible as it is “unethical to devise a study that would explicitly deny some people coverage while giving it to others.” However, in 2008, Oregon wanted to expand its Medicaid coverage but could only afford to add 10,000 residents to the program. Nearly 90,000 people applied. The state decided to select who would receive benefits by lottery. Economists studied the quality of life of both those who received and those who did not receive Medicaid in the two years before the state of Oregon came up with the money to offer insurance to those who had not received coverage through the lottery.

The study found that those with Medicaid were 35% more likely to go to a clinic or see a doctor, 15% more likely to use prescription drugs, and 30% more likely to be admitted to a hospital. The likelihood that Medicaid recipients said their health was good or excellent increased by 25% and they were 40% less likely to say that there health had worsened in the last year than those without insurance. Among women in the study, those with Medicaid were 60% more likely to have mammograms, 20% more likely to have their cholesterol checked, 70% more likely to have a particular clinic or office for medical care and 55% more likely to have a personal doctor. The researchers at the National Bureau of Economic Research are now assessing the health effects of insurance for the poor.

However, despite the evidence that providing health insurance to the underprivileged is very beneficial, $400 million is going to be cut from the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare budget. Currently, 52.2% of Pennsylvania’s welfare budget is dedicated to Medicaid. Over two million Pennsylvanians receive Medicaid benefits and 2,534,761 individuals receive cash assistance or are beneficiaries of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, previously known as food stamps). All of these state citizens will have their benefits cut without guarantee of legislative oversight or opportunity for public comment, Weishaupt said.

Decreased access to benefits which are proven to improve quality of life will be especially harmful for women. The National Institute for Reproductive Health has found that (PDF):

Women are particularly at risk [for being uninsured], with over 17 million women uninsured. Women often rely on a spouse for health coverage, and should they become widowed or divorced, they are susceptible to losing that insurance. Without insurance, women do not receive preventive care and lack security in maintaining their health.

NIRH also found that women of color, young women, and low-income women are especially at risk of being uninsured. Though unemployed and part-time working women are more likely to be uninsured, the majority of uninsured women are in working families.

To learn about how welfare funds are currently distributed, click here [PDF].

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Filed under Government, Health insurance, PA Legislature, Pennsylvania, Welfare, Women's health

Governor’s Budget Includes Decrease for Cash Assistance Program

Governor Tom Corbett’s proposed budget for 2011-12 has been released, and it shows interesting trends in funding to the Department of Public Welfare. The governor has proposed increasing funds for Medicaid, which is a good development for the state.

Enrollment in Medical Assistance is projected to increase in 2011-12 by 4.5% to 2,273,555 Pennsylvanians. Overall state funding for MA is $5.2 billion in the budget plan, reflecting the expected increase in enrollment and additional utilization costs. It also reflects a significant increase in state funding to make up for lost FMAP funding.

Unfortunately, cash assistance grants, meant to help families in need cover basic living expenses like housing, utilities, clothing, and more, have still not increased. It has been over 21 years since there was an increase in cash assistance levels on January 1, 1990. The grant levels that families (who are overwhelmingly single mothers with one or two children) receive are too low to begin with and their real value, when adjusted for inflation, gets lower and lower each year. The number of families and individuals needing assistance is expected to increase this year:

Enrollment in cash assistance programs is projected to increase slightly in 2011-12 to 256,005. Funding for cash grants, however, was cut by 10% to $249 million.

In this proposed budget, the governor’s office has ignored the situation of today’s needy families. It is time to provide those who have fallen on hard time with the assistance they need to survive and the real ability to escape the cycle of poverty.

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Filed under Pennsylvania, Welfare

Debunking the Myth of the “Welfare Queen”: Who Actually Receives TANF Benefits?

In February of this year, a blogger wrote about their experience observing an 11th grade classroom. The post discusses a student performing a poem that mocks a poor woman who encourages her seven children to steal food. When the character confronts police officers and runs into the drug-addict father of her children, she delivers the punch line – “You can have my welfare check!”

According to the post’s author, when asked who the poem was referring to, the student said “Minorities, because they’re the main ones on welfare.”

Besides the obviously skewed viewpoint the poem expresses, it is alarming to note that the girl reading the poem was one of two black students in the classroom – the rest being white.

This unsettlingly common view of cash assistance recipients in the U.S. dates back to the 1976 presidential campaign, when Ronald Reagan popularized a hyperbolic framework for female welfare recipients known as the “welfare queen.” The stereotype is sexist, racist, and belittles the legitimacy of cash assistance programs, criminalizing and disparaging those in need.

While the infamous star of the “welfare queen” narrative, cruising around in her “welfare Cadillac” was nowhere to be found by the national media, the fictional picture of lower class minority women abusing the system that gives them monthly “hand-outs” continues to shape the way Americans think about welfare recipients. Moreover, this misconception adversely affects the largest demographic benefitting from cash assistance – children.

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Filed under Domestic violence, Government, Pennsylvania, Politics, Welfare

New Census Figures on Poverty Paint a Bleak Picture for Women

The U.S. Census Bureau released new statistics on poverty last week, revealing a dismal picture for women and families across the country. The number of people living in poverty increased from 39.8 million in 2008 to 43.6 million in 2009 – in real terms, that means that one out of every seven Americans is living in poverty. The full report can be accessed here [PDF].

Of all types of households, the ones headed by women claim the lowest median earnings: the 20.6 million single women not living with family members have a median income of $25,269, while the 14.5 million families headed by women have a median income of $32,597.

Contrast those figures with the median incomes for single male households ($36,611), families with a single male householder ($48,084), and married-couple households ($71,830).

For single women raising children, the picture is even bleaker: 29.9% of female-headed households live below the federal poverty line. By contrast, 11.1% of all families are in poverty, and for married-couple families, that percentage drops to 5.8%.

The gender wage gap didn’t significantly change last year:

Both men and women, 15 years old and over, who worked full-time, year-round experienced increases in real median earnings between 2008 and 2009. The median earnings of men increased 2.0 percent, from $46,191 to $47,127; and the earnings of women increased by 1.9 percent, from $35,609 to $36,278. In 2009, the female-to-male earnings ratio was 0.77, not statistically different from the 2008 ratio.

Breakdowns by state and county will be available later this year. In 2008, 12.1% of Pennsylvanians lived below the poverty line.

These figures are depressing, but not hopeless. There are several things you can do to show your support for equal pay and giving single mothers the help they need to get out of poverty:

  • Let your elected officials know that you support the Paycheck Fairness Act. The PFA would strengthen the Equal Pay Act and proposes voluntary guidelines for employers to follow in evaluating jobs and eliminating sex-based pay disparities for the same work.
  • Tell Congress that the safety net is failing women and families. This report [PDF] from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research describes the many ways that the systems set up to help people in need are failing women and children. The U.S. Senate Finance Committee is holding a hearing on September 21 on “Welfare Reform: A New Conversation on Women and Poverty.” You can submit written comments here.
  • If you’re in Pennsylvania, you can urge our gubernatorial candidates to pledge to raise cash assistance levels in their budget proposals to the state legislature. Contact Republican Tom Corbett here and email Democrat Dan Onorato here.

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Filed under Equal pay, Pennsylvania