11/9/2011 6:17 PM ET|
America's new 'untouchables'
The safety net for people who don't otherwise qualify for public assistance is fraying as state budgets shrink. Experts say a growing underclass is the result.
As cash-strapped states relentlessly slash spending on relief for people who fall outside the federal social safety net, a new group of "untouchables" is fast emerging, experts warn.
For decades, hundreds of thousands of people in dire straits -- mentally or physically disabled, homeless and unemployed, ineligible for federal welfare, disability or food subsidies -- could generally count on state or local governments for modest handouts of cash to help scrape by. Under the rubric of "general assistance," these down-and-out Americans received modest payments -- often no more than a few hundred dollars a month -- to help defray the cost of necessities including rent, food, clothing, toilet paper, aspirin, phone cards and bus tickets.
But in the midst of the worst recession of modern times and changing attitudes about the poor, many states have been gradually chipping away at general assistance programs or eliminating them altogether. Thirty states currently offer any form of general assistance -- down from 38 in 1989. And in late October, Washington state formally ended its "Disability Lifeline" program for an estimated 18,000 to 22,000 economically desperate residents.
That program once provided beneficiaries with as much as $339 a month to help cover the bare necessities of life, but that was cut to $197 a month in the past year, before the governor and state legislature zeroed out the program. What remains of general assistance in Washington includes new proposals for temporary medical treatment, modest housing vouchers, and aid to the elderly and blind and to pregnant women who have no other source of support. But even much of that assistance may never materialize as the state wrestles with its latest budget shortfall and the governor pushes for even deeper cuts, according to state officials.
Although precise figures are not available, states spend an estimated $3 billion to $4 billion every year on basic assistance to needy people, and a fraction of that goes for general cash assistance to people who don't qualify for other federal programs like food stamps. But even food stamps are not a slam dunk: If the congressional supercommittee fails to reach a minimum $1.2 trillion deal in three weeks, the ax will fall on domestic programs that help the poor.
"The reality is that people aren't going to be able to get their basic needs met and that is the bitter, unvarnished truth," Alison Eisinger, the executive director of the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness told The Fiscal Times. "And the result, we know, is going to mean more desperation, more fragmentation of households, more homelessness and higher costs for our community."
Tony Lee, the advocacy director for Solid Ground, a social-services agency in Seattle's King County, said many of those who have lost their general assistance support are part of what has become a throwaway class of people. Hanging on by a thread, many are now likely to end up on the streets or dumped into hospital emergency rooms, detoxification centers and jails.
"It really is a disastrous situation," Lee said. "General assistance was the ultimate safety net, and we're doing away with that -- we really shredded it."
The new underclass
In the first comprehensive national study of general assistance in more than a dozen years, the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities has documented decades-long erosion in the programs as more and more states abandoned the concept or could no longer afford it.
Just three-fifths of the states and the District of Columbia still offer general assistance, and only to those people who do not have minor children, who are not disabled enough to qualify for the federal Supplemental Security Income program and are not elderly. For those who qualify, the benefits are modest. In 29 of the 30 states with general assistance programs, the maximum benefit falls 50% or more below the poverty line for individuals.
What's more, the rules established for many of these programs seem to set logic on its head. Some of the lowest benefit levels serve individuals who are mentally or physically unable to work and are therefore incapable of earning money to supplement their benefit. For these people, the median benefit is $215 a month, yet the median benefit for employable individuals -- who presumably could earn some extra money -- is $381.
Delaware, Illinois, Kansas and Ohio provide a benefit only for unemployable individuals, yet they set the maximum benefit level at or below $115 a month, or barely subsistence. In the majority of states with general assistance programs, most recipients qualify for health coverage, generally through Medicaid or a state-funded health care program. There is no federally supported cash program for poor childless adults who do not receive Supplemental Security Income.
"It is definitely a safety net of the very last resort," says Liz Schott, a veteran lawyer specializing in government assistance for the poor and a co-author of a study of such aid issued in late October. "Because general assistance is entirely state or local funded and . . . budgets are pressed with the increased demands, we're seeing programs being cut just when the people who need them need them more than ever."
This year alone, as officials struggled to close large budget shortfalls, 10 states considered proposals to further shrink or eliminate general assistance, and seven states adopted such measures, according to the new study.
Kansas and the city of Chicago eliminated their programs; Minnesota restricted eligibility; Michigan reduced benefit levels for all recipients; and Rhode Island is cutting benefits for some recipients. The District of Columbia reduced funding for its program by two-thirds and plans to limit the size of its caseload accordingly.
In Washington, Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire and the Democratic-controlled state legislature are eliminating general assistance as part of an ongoing financial crisis brought on by the recession and steep drops in revenue. Over the past three years, the governor and legislature have cut government agencies and programs by $10 billion, and they now face an additional $2 billion budget shortfall.
Gregoire circulated a list of dozens of potential budget cuts, including elimination of the general assistance medical program and other vestiges of the general assistance program. "This is not what I signed up for when I started as a caseworker 40 years ago," Gregoire said. "But it's what the world economy handed our state and our country."
VIDEO ON MSN MONEY
I could argue for hours on this topic, but instead I think I will just tell you a story.
My friend and neighbor is 53 years old. She has been working since she was 14, starting on her grandparents' farm. She is a veteran of the United States Army. She raised two children who have never been in trouble with the law, even after her husband's death left her a single parent.
About a year ago, she got sick. I won't go into the details for the simple reason that doctors have yet to figure out what is causing her condition. In August, she lost her job; her employers claim her slow movement, a direct result of her medical problems, amounts to "negligence" which makes her ineligible for unemployment benefits. She has engaged in a massive job search, but she never gets past the interview stage. She is, in essence, unemployable.
This woman who spent her entire life taking care of others is now completely dependant on her daughter. Her daugher makes minimum wage and can barely support herself, but now she is supporting her mother as well. My neighbor receives assistance in the form of VA medical benefits because she couldn't see a doctor otherwise. Earlier this week, she fell on the stairs and broke her ankle; if not for her time in the military, she wouldn't have even been able to get a cast for it because emergency rooms here don't do xrays for uninsured individuals. I know this from experience. I do what I can to help, but I have barely enough in my bank account to cover my rent.
Before you go saying that the poor are all lazy, that they have only themselves to blame, think for a second about the people in your lives. How many of them would be able to endure a sudden illness or emergency? How many of them could lose their jobs tomorrow and not feel some negative impact?
Many of the hardest hit were once the hardest working.
A Matter Of Priorities ...
In ostensibly the richest nation on the planet I find it personally unconscionable that we have more than two million American citizens either homeless or underhoused, (ie: no permanent housing solution). As a country with a $14.5 Trillion annual GNP, we seem always to have enough money for bailouts of banks and insurance companies, unneccessary wars, porkbarrel projects for scheming Senators, or multi billion dollar foreign aid handouts to over eighty other countries, many of whom hate us to the core. We never have any money, however, to help our own citizens in need ... many of whom are veterans, the disabled, the elderly or just good people who fell on hard times through no fault of their own. Except for the uber-rich who comprise the 1% of society that controls almost all of the wealth, we are all now living in a nation whose problems are growing exponentially, and with each passing year millions more Americans are falling into the abyss. Nothing is going to change until the fundamentals are changed. The Fortune 500 corporations and their CEOs have 32,000 registered lobbyists inside the DC beltway to spread absolutely obscene amounts of money around Capitol Hill,(should be spelled 'Capital Hill'), to insure that our crooked Senators and Congressman to do the bidding of corporate America.... and not what's right for the average American. Enough is enough ... it is time for the people to take our country back, it is a matter of prorities.
Peace to all .
In his Armistice Day address to Congress, Wilson was sensitive to the psychological toll of the lean War years: "Hunger," he remarked, "breeds madness."
The closed-mindedness just has to stop. The emotional knee-jerk reactions are devastating to us all. Welfare needs overhaul, nobody argues against that. There are many flaws in the socially and morally invaluable system. We must put our minds to the idea of looking into how to improve it instead of blindingly abandoning it and those we used to call Our Fellow Americans. Many, many of these people are not the lazy bums they are being persecuted as, some are. The importance of separating the two cannot be overemphasized.
1) Establish some form of a work program to receive welfare for those who are actually capable of working. Minimum wage laws would not apply. The government cannot become their permanent employer. Welfare is not to get you out of poverty, it is to keep you alive while you work to improve your situation.
2) Require and support them in job training, re-training, or education.
3) Conduct unscheduled on site inspections of applicants before and during.
4) Require drug testing for all applicants before and during.
5) Get rid of the feel good guilt trip motivations of the left and the hate filled kill them all attitude of the right and think about this with some intelligence, compassion, foresight and a genuine desire to do the right thing and improve society for all Americans.
It is important to remember that we are talking about people here and not generalities. Each person's circumstances are different, and it is all to easy to lump the destitute and desperate into one category and thus deny them their humanity. This is how all forms of hatred take root. In order to kill one must dehumanize a group of people. Once we succeed in brainwashing ourselves that they are not human LIKE US, it is just a slippery slope down to genocide and all forms of depravity.
FOOLS! Do you think you are any different than the European people who allowed and sometimes even encouraged the murder of millions of people simply on the basis of class hatred, jealousy, and some cooked up sense of racial superiority? I assure you that you are not. You would do well to study Nazi history and other forms of mass murder perpetrated by otherwise good, law-abiding citizens. The tried and true tactics of information control and propaganda used by the Nazis and other murderous factions are alive and well today just waiting to distort people's indolent, ignorant minds to turn you into hateful, murderous Pons doing their bidding.
Guard your souls carefully and remain vigilant because evil thrives on ignorance and weakness. Be careful what you think, say, and do because you had better believe their is a supreme power and you will be held accountable one day in the final judgment.
You do not know that all of these poor people are scammers and lazy. Some of them no doubt are, but that does not excuse your persecution of them. Fact is you do not know these people, and thus you do not know who is deserving or not. Stop acting like you do. And stop acting like you could never be one of them because not one of us knows when tragedy will strike or when the rules we live by and take for granted will be changed leaving us on the outside looking in...OUTSIDERS....UNTOUCHABLES....UNCLEAN...
squiggy & crying - yes, I hate multigenerational welfare that could have been preventing by going to school & getting a diploma, not having kids, etc. But there are other groups that need help.
My biggest fear is being diagnosed with a major/lifelong illness or disease or being severely/permanently injured in an accident. I am single and my only immediate family member is my dad - who turned 92 yesterday.
I wouldn't qualify for aid immediately - I have retirement accounts, equity in my condo, etc. - but eventually my assets would run out. Then what? I have a college education, work, pay taxes, obey laws, am a decent person - yet through no fault of my own I could end up on the street and die before my time.
This country (USA) spends billions on illegal aliens: Health care,Food stamps and other social services. So illegal aliens can have a better life in this country. But it can't help it own citizens.
I a citizen and veteran, I have been denied food stamps/social-services/health-care. Do too the states lack of funds for its citizens, but the states have funds too help illegal aliens.
Cut off "ALL FUNDS" to non-citizens and the illegals aliens will STOP COMING TOO THE USA !!!
Magical thinking and the worship of fiction is another part of the problem. Adults who speak to imaginary friends should not be walking the streets free, let alone voting.
All religious groups should be taxed like everything else. It is long overdue for the biggest business of them all... religion.... to be taxed.
Victoria959= And YOUR situation is EXACTLY what these programs were designed for, good for you on the new job! I had also used the "Welfare" program briefly when I lived in a seasonal tourist area, after realising there wouldn't be any year-round jobs that second winter, I MOVED to where there would be, yes with the help of welfare. No more temporary dependency.
The biggest drain is those that DON'T or WON'T work , but could and can. They just DON'T.
Someone explain to me WHY the Low Income Housing Complexes are full of newer cars? $50.00 rent with other subsidies yet $300+ car payments for several years? Big screen tv with cable or satelite? Every family member with a cell phone-even the little ones? I don't have any of that!
By the way, I use a 9 year old DESKtop computer that shuts off at random. No, I can't afford to replace it.
Personally I believe EVERY SINGLE PERSON with Gov. benefits needs to be investigated for fraud. I know too many of them that can't possibly have what they do unless it's ill gotten. And if they claim all these things are "gifts"? Then they have family and friends that CAN support them!!
Solution to immigration and unemployment-
A hard stance and crack down on illegal's working jobs that "Americans do not want to do". With this reduction in social programs people will be given a choice. Go pick some apples and corn, maybe live on a farm. Or, become homeless. I am guessing people will choose to have a job over living on the street. Call me crazy!
Thomas Jefferson once said,
"The democracy will cease to exist when you take away from those who are willing to work, and give to those who would not."
It seams to me that years of abusing the system by the few has finnaly caught up with the whole.
its unfortunate that it will hurt those that truly need the help, but you cannot sustain that level of welfare forever. It all had to end sometime.
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